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Texas school bill places LGBT students at risk

In January, Texas lawmakers will consider a bill that would give parents unfettered rights to all the information a school has about their child. Supporters of the bill say that it protects the rights of parents, but what it will actually do is put many kids — especially those who are LGBT — at risk.

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On its face, Senate bill (SB) 242, proposed by Senator Konni Burton, seems like common sense. Most parents would agree that they want to be able to access their kids’ school records. And, as Burton’s office told the Independent Journal Review, Texas already mandates that parents have access to things like “disciplinary records, counseling records, [and] psychological records.” So if all that’s true, then what is the new bill doing and why is it a problem? Well, when you learn the reason behind the new bill and what the changes to it would be, it becomes clear that this bill was put forward for one reason and one reason only — to restrict the rights of LGBT youth.

On Nov. 16, Burton described this new bill she would soon be filing on her blog. In her post, Burton did not try to couch the bill as something that would, in a general sense, protect the rights of parents. In fact, in the first paragraph of her post, Burton made the impetus for the bill quite clear:

“Friends, earlier this year Fort Worth ISD issued new guidelines for transgender students. If you recall, the guidelines made it acceptable for teachers and staff to withhold personal information about a student from that student’s parents…I wrote an op-ed defending the parent’s role in their child’s life and expressing my disappointment that the Fort Worth ISD would keep information about a student secret rather than communicating openly to the student’s parent.”

After an uproar in the community, those guidelines were soon changed to require parental involvement.

The new bill would allow Texas parents the right to the same information they had before, but with a notable addition. Along with “access to student records,” as written in the current bill, the new bill would add the “right to full information regarding [the] student.” On the list of required disclosures, in addition to attendance records, tests scores and reports of behavioral patterns, SB 242 would add “and other records relating to the child’s general physical, psychological, or emotional well-being.” Teachers and other staff would not be required to share any information unless they were asked for it by the parent, but if they were asked, they would be required to share all requested information or face disciplinary measures. (For the record, the exception here is in cases of child abuse, in which case schools are mandatory reporters and do not require the parent’s involvement.)

Burton has written this bill so that it sounds like a logical, normal and possibly even positive move (well, unless you believe that your child has a right to some privacy, in which case the whole thing feels gross, but I digress.) But remember the reason Burton is asking for these changes in the first place, and you might realize how destructive and even life-threatening this bill could be. After all, if a trans student is choosing to confide in their school counselor or their science teacher instead of their parents, there’s probably a good reason for it. As DeAnne Cuellar of Equality Texas told The Guardian, “This is a violation of personal privacy and this legislation puts LGBT youth in harm’s way…Teachers can’t effectively do their jobs if they’re worried about being penalized for not outing their students to their parents.”

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Since Burton introduced the bill, there has been an outcry against it from LGBT activists and supporters across the country. Burton is now claiming that her bill has been misunderstood and says that “there is a great deal of misinformation being spread about this proposed bill,” and blames “those who stoke the flames of fear” for mischaracterizing the bill’s intent.

Burton, however, made it clear from the very beginning that this bill was about trans children and punishing those who try to protect them. As she said to The Guardian, “the proposed bill makes sure that such an attempt by a school district does not happen again.” So it seems that the bill is in fact understood — all too well, we’d say.

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