Katy Independent School District trustees are debating several new policies that would impose restrictions on LGBTQ+ students and dictate how employees should handle gender identity matters, expanding well beyond a small number of proposals discussed at a board meeting Monday night.
A draft of the policy released Tuesday shows board members are considering policies that would mandate students use bathrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth, with limited exceptions; allow staff members to reject requests to call students by their preferred pronouns; and ban employees from teaching or sharing information about gender identity, among other changes.
School employees also would be required to notify parents when a student requests to “be identified as transgender, change his or her name, or use different pronouns at school,” except in cases of suspected abuse or those prohibited by law.
The draft policy was not available to the public before or during a Katy board meeting Monday, when trustees discussed a narrower set of proposals related to gender identity. Some members of the seven-person board voiced support for parts of the proposal that were debated Monday, while others deemed the policies unnecessary.
It is not clear if or when Katy board members might vote on the draft policy, though Trustee Dawn Champagne said it likely will be discussed during a public meeting Aug. 28.
With the proposal, Katy joins school districts across the country debating how much privacy students should be granted when it comes to their gender identity. The policy is yet another hot-button issue that the district has taken on in recent years, following its support of book-banning and embrace of LGBTQ+ policies generally supported by conservatives.
Proponents of gender identity policies mirroring those pitched by Katy trustees argue that parents — not educators — should be making decisions about what is best for a child.
“As a teacher, I’m not the final decision-maker for a child.” Trustee Amy Thieme said. “The parent is. My job is to teach math.”
Critics say that failing to embrace students’ gender identity and revealing it against their will — especially to unsupportive parents — exacerbates mental health risks.
Katy parent Anne Russey, who spoke against the proposal during Monday’s public comment, said she wished trustees would spend their time on the “real problems that plague” Katy, like staff vacancies and opportunity disparities.
“They are taking most of their moves straight out of the Christian nationalist extremist playbook,” Russey said of the board.
Champagne said three of her colleagues — Board President Victor Perez and trustees Morgan Calhoun and Mary Ellen Cuzela — drafted the policy with the help of an outside attorney.
The four-page policy addresses several of the gender-identity issues drawing national discussion, putting Katy squarely on the side of conservative advocates.
Under the policy, students would be prohibited from using a bathroom that doesn’t align with their sex assigned at birth, with some exceptions in the case of emergency or student safety threats. Some Republican legislators have pushed for a similar mandate in schools statewide, though their efforts in recent years have not been successful.
If a parent or adult student formally requests the use of specific pronouns in writing, the policy states teachers are not required to comply, but may do so if they wish. Katy employees would not be allowed to ask students for their preferred pronouns.
Board president Victor Perez said this guideline would safeguard teachers from feeling compelled to refer to students with pronouns they are “not comfortable” using.
The policy also would lay the grounds for disciplinary action if district employees “encourage” or “coerce” a student to “withhold information from their parent.”
The policy further outlaws the presence of “gender fluidity” materials and topics in the classroom, stating: “The District staff will not teach, share, instruct, train, or otherwise require any student or other District staff to adopt, support, or otherwise promote gender fluidity.”
Teachers would also not be allowed to direct students to online gender resources unless the site is an approved district material. Trustee Rebecca Fox said the provision is insulting to educators, who would do more than merely directing children struggling with identity issues to internet resources.
“Our time would be better spent talking about how to help our children have stronger outcomes,” Fox said.