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Dripping Springs ISD parents say proposed policy changes endanger LGBTQ+ students

A rainbow Pride flag with an added triangle of white, pink, light blue, brown and black — to symbolize transgender rights, people of color and those living with or lost to HIV/AIDS.
Gabriel C. Pérez
KUT News
Community members fear removing the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” will lift protections for LGBTQ+ students and staff.

The Dripping Springs ISD school board is looking to remove the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity" from many of its anti-discrimination rules.

The district is considering cutting these phrases out of several policies, including one on student welfare, which currently states: "Discrimination is defined as treating a student or group of students differently from similarly situated students on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law."

Board members are also considering removing the following sentence from the same policy: "Discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender stereotypes, or any other prohibited basis related to sex."

The board discussed these changes at a meeting on April 15 and was meant to revisit them Monday night. They ended up postponing the item for a later date, but dozens of parents and community members still attended the meeting to express their concerns.

“I hope that you all recognize your responsibility to protect our students from harassment, bullying and discrimination, no matter who they date or how they identify,” said parent Chris Kennedy.

He said his daughter is part of the LGBTQ+ community and graduated from the district.

“If the school board strips sexual orientation and gender identity from the policy, and only those words, you're officially saying it is no longer your job to protect those students or their educational opportunities,” he said.

Families, students lay out concerns

Community members said they disagree with the changes and fear removing the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” will lift protections for LGBTQ+ students and staff. Even a few students attended the meeting to speak to DSISD board members.

“I cannot bring myself to understand why anyone would think it would be a good idea to remove protections for people like me,” said Elliot Downey, a Dripping Springs High School senior. “I would like to believe that everyone in this room would want schools to be a safe place for students to learn.”

The school district said it pursued the change of language for consistency across several policies, and it will continue to follow state and federal laws.

“The removal or modification of protections against bullying or discrimination was never the intent of these changes and would not be the result,” the district's statement read. “The DSISD Board of Trustees and administration stand firm that bullying and discrimination are unacceptable and will not be tolerated — including if based on a person’s status as part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

While dozens of people opposed the changes, a few spoke out in support. Rob Mamula, a father to three sons in the school district, said he interpreted the language tweaks as positive changes to the school's policies.

"I am concerned about the sexualization of our children, I am concerned about getting ideologies into the school that have no business being there," he said. "My child doesn't need to know the sexual orientation of their teacher."

What does the law say?

All Texas public schools must abide by Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs. By definition, this includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Although these two terms will technically still be included in DSISD’s policy under Title IX, community members are still concerned about the repercussions.

Jeffrey Todd, a DSHS parent and Texas State University law professor, also attended the DSISD board meeting on Monday. He said the district should keep the terms just to be safe.

"I also think it’s just the right thing to do to keep these protections in place for the students and for the staff," he said.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said she also opposes removing the terms and believes it would be a step backward.

“[I] remember the hope and encouragement the local LGBTQ community received when the ISD decided to expand their protections to include 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' a few years ago,” she said in a press release.

"I have heard arguments that the policy proposal is simply eliminating duplicative categories and that 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' do not need to be specifically named to be included," she said. "However, the legal landscape is unfortunately still unclear. … Thus, our school district providing additional protections for students is still legally meaningful.”

The next DSISD school board meeting will take place on May 20.

Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
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