The Katy Independent School District’s decision to out transgender students to their parents is not only what one attorney described as “bullying masquerading as policy” – it’s also a violation of the Texas Education Agency’s code of ethics.
Last week, my Houston Landing colleague Miranda Dunlap reported that Katy ISD has called the parents of 19 students, informing those parents that their kid identifies as transgender or has requested to go by a different name or pronouns at school. That number, which Dunlap obtained through a public records request, shakes out to about two kids per week since August, when the school board first passed its policy requiring staff to notify parents of such situations.
And it’s likely that as the school year progresses, the number will only continue to climb, creating a wider wake of harm to these kids, some of whom are likely to have been outed to families that will not support their identities.
“This policy, in particular, has a distinct and really dangerous set of harms,” says Chloe Kempf, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “We know that outing children against their will places them at risk of rejection, abuse in the home, and places them at an elevated risk of homelessness.”
Resources for Katy ISD parents and students
Here is general guidance from the ACLU of Texas for students who are affected by discriminatory policies:
- Stay calm and document everything that happens. If a teacher, principal, or another student says something to you, try to record it, write it down, or confirm any information via email
- Support each other and stand up against bullying, harassment, and anti-LGBTQ+ policies
- When possible, try to find supportive parents, friends, and adults. Be aware that some school staff members may share information you tell them with your parents or guardians, even if they are not permitted to do so under state law
Some resources from the ACLU of Texas:
That’s not rhetoric. It’s fact. While about 12.5 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds report that they’ve experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, the rate for transgender adults that age is nearly twice as high, at 23.5 percent.
Another fact: People who experience homelessness at younger ages are more likely to be chronically homeless throughout their lives.
Want another? The Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention nonprofit for LGBTQ+ youth, reports that LGBTQ+ youth who reported housing instability and homelessness are more than twice as likely to report depression, and nearly four times as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not experience housing instability.
In short, outing children to their family can set off a chain reaction of irreparable harm. And that, Kempf says, is a violation of the Texas Education Agency’s code of ethics, which states an educator “shall not intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly treat a student or minor in a manner that adversely affects or endangers the learning, physical health, mental health, or safety of the student or minor.”
And, Kempf notes, “outing a student against their will unfortunately does all of those things.”
The TEA did not respond to a request for comment about how Katy ISD’s actions square with the agency’s policies. Katy ISD’s spokesman, Craig Eichhorn, similarly didn’t respond to my messages.
And their silence speaks volumes.
I asked Kempf if she thinks there’s a possibility that perhaps most of these students’ parents already knew how their child identifies; if perhaps the district didn’t violate TEA policy, because all 19 of these families could, theoretically, be supportive.
According to the Trevor Project, 57 percent of parents would be comfortable if their child came out as transgender or nonbinary. That’s higher than I expected, to be honest. But it still means that more than 40 percent of parents would not be comfortable.
“Logistically, I don’t see how it’s possible for the school district to be able to know with the required level of certainty that outing a student will not lead to abuse or neglect or other forms of harm in the home,” Kempf says. “There’s just no way of knowing that in advance of making a disclosure like this, which is why we believe that the policy as written is in violation of the law, no matter how it’s enforced.”
Yes, the law. The ACLU contends that forced outings of children to their parents is a violation of students’ privacy rights.
“It’s a risk, coming out to anybody,” says Carrie Rai, the executive director of Tony’s Place, a nonprofit resource center for LGBTQ+ youth, based in Montrose. “They come out in their trusted safe space, and I can’t tell you what that safe space is to an individual, because it’s different for each person. And it should be that individual’s choice.”
Tony’s Place is what Rai calls a “safe haven” for LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 25, where they can come in to eat a hot meal, do laundry, find gender-affirming clothing, shower and work with case managers. Most of the youth are homeless, unstably housed or unsafely housed, Rai says. And, Rai says, “family rejection is the number one reason” the youth she works with find themselves without a safe and stable place to call home.
It’s not immediately clear if Katy ISD is the first school district in the state to forcibly out students. With more than 1,200 districts across Texas, Kempf says the ACLU can’t be certain of such a superlative. But she does know that it’s the state’s largest district to take such action. The same week Katy ISD passed its policy, California’s attorney general sued a school district outside Los Angeles in an attempt to block the district from acting on a similar policy that had recently passed.
That’s not going to happen here in Texas, where the state’s leadership has been nothing short of hostile to transgender youth. In the past couple years alone, the state legislature has limited life-saving, gender-affirming health care options for transgender youth and limited their ability to play sports. At the same time, a wave of book bans have removed representative stories from school shelves – including in Katy.
“This is bullying, masquerading as policy – targeting an already-marginalized group of young people in the state, and making their lives even worse,” says Kempf. “Essentially every aspect of life, of being a kid, and being a successful and healthy student is under attack.”
The act of outing kids is just the latest step in a forced march of cruelty.
The fact that this happened to 19 children violates more than just ethics codes and laws. It violates a fundamental human code of what it means to be good and decent. Even if Katy ISD had only sent home one notification these past two months, that would have been one too many.
Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly described how parents were notified by the school district. Parents receive phone calls.