AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Monday, Oct. 25, saw the introduction of a barrel full of questions regarding Texas school districts and how they treat, and teach, their students. The passing of House Bill 25 is set to affect how students play sports across the state come spring, and a State Representative set a deadline with unclear consequences about which schools have which books. Here is an overview of the two bigger topics in Texas education this week.
Part I | House Bill 25 and the day-to-day impact
Co-authored by local High Plains state legislators Four Price and Ken King, House Bill 25 was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday. The bill bans students in Texas from joining school sports based on gender identity instead of a biological sex noted on documents at or near the time of their birth. Impacting K-12 students, the law is expected to go into effect next semester in January 2022.
However, exactly how school districts are going to enforce the text of the bill is unclear. There is no guidance regarding how to put the bill’s requirements into practice within the text, except to say that school districts will be responsible for following it. This has left many questions without a clear answer, including;
- The bill requires the use of a student’s birth certificate as it was at the time of or near birth, except for “clerical errors:”
- How will local school districts check to see if those documents have been legally changed in the past?
- How will school districts implement this while respecting state and federal student medical confidentiality and privacy laws?
- The U.S. Department of Education (DoEd) said in June 2021 that it considers that Title IX specifically also protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination on bases such as sexual orientation and gender identity,
- How will this impact how local schools enforce House Bill 25?
- What is the guidance for school districts that face any federal lawsuits or consequences if they’re considered to be disregarding Title IX protections, even if they’re following state law?
- How should student athletes expect their UIL involvement to change with House Bill 25?
- Will some students be forced to change teams, even if they have spent years in their chosen sport?
- Will general eligibility and access be impacted?
- If a student was noted as being intersex or otherwise gender-nonconforming on their documentation when they were born, what team will they be expected to join?
- Will collegiate or professional recruitment or scholarships be impacted? How?
With this list of questions in mind to begin to discuss the day-to-day enforcement of this bill, MyHighPlains.com reached out to the Amarillo Independent School District, the Texas Education Agency, and the University Interscholastic League (UIL) for comment and clarification.
Amarillo ISD said, “As we do anytime there is new legislation that impacts public schools, we will follow the guidance provided to us by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The TEA administers the laws and rules that govern education in the state.”
The TEA said, when contacted after Amarillo ISD, “The team at UIL should be able to assist with this request. Implementation of this legislation does not fall under TEA’s purview.”
Then, the UIL administration said, “The UIL expects all member schools to be in compliance with state law and UIL eligibility rules. We know that schools have systems in place to comply with state law as they have always done.”
With the school district waiting on guidance from the TEA, but the TEA claiming that it does not have any oversight or guidance to give, and the UIL administration claiming that schools have systems in place already – where does the responsibility in dealing with this issue actually lay?
Who, now that this legislation is set to impact the over 5.47 million students across Texas, is responsible for deciding how schools need to go about enforcing this law? From that, what is that person or group’s guidance on the topic?
Part II | Books in Texas schools and libraries
Monday, as previously mentioned, only saw further questions introduced regarding Texas schools and their students in the coming months.
Texas Attorney General Candidate Representative Matt Krause issued a letter to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and superintendents that began an inquiry into school district content. Krause asked for responses by Nov. 12 from each school district regarding:
- How many copies each district has of books from this 16-page list.
- The “amount of funds” spent by school districts used to get the books from that list.
- A note of “any other books or content” in the district, including location and funding used by the districts to get them, that address or include:
- Human sexuality
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- “Sexually explicit images”
- “Graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law,” or
- “Contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Many of the books on the list include stories of people impacted or overcoming discrimination such as racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, from works of fiction to memoirs and anthologies. These include award-winning books and bestsellers such as “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “LGBT Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee, “The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves” edited by Sarah Moon, and Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens and Parents.”
The list also included many books regarding subjects such as health information, teen pregnancy, legal rights for teens, and debate guides for issues such as abortion.
It appeared that some of these books might be under consideration for whether or not they violate House Bill 3979, the “critical race theory law” intended to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools. The law said a teacher cannot “require or make part of a course” a series of race-related concepts, including the ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” based on their race or sex.
However, numerous aspects regarding Krause’s request were not explained in the text of the letter:
- It was not clear in the letter whether books present in a school – whether or not they are included in an official curriculum – that discuss topics like the race will be considered to be violating HB 3979.
- It was not made clear why books regarding sexually transmitted diseases or health information made the list when official state health education guidelines also cover and offer resources regarding such topics.
- Because the letter said the report should include school library and classroom collections, it was unclear whether Krause expects districts to detail what books were donated or bought personally by teachers or parents, and from where.
- It is not clear what will happen to the districts that have the books, or other qualifying works, on this list.
Part III | What now?
Because of the lack of clarity from districts, educational and scholastic agencies, state legislators, and the law, it may be a wait until mid-to-late November to see the road ahead for Krause’s new inquiry. Even later, it may be January 2022 before more guidance is issued regarding what teachers, parents, and students should expect to go through to comply with new regulations on sports.
In the meantime, public libraries can provide access to digital and digital education resources, as well as books through requests, holds, and interlibrary loan programs. The Texas State Library Archives Commission also provides portals such as TexQuest for literary, media, information, research, and curriculum resources.
Further, the US Department of Education published resources for students including those who are among the LGBTQ+ community. The Office for Civil Rights within the DoEd has also collected data and resources regarding accessibility and equity in school.
This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.