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Back to School Rights: COVID-19 Isn’t the Only Issue

Many schools across Texas are heading back to school (in person or online) this week, and it’s important for students and parents to know their rights.

First of all, this school year is very different than others and parents may have many concerns about the opening (or refusal to open) of schools for the fall semester in the midst of COVID-19. For parents who may want to homeschool their children, Texas Values can help provide resources on how to write a letter to the school district to unenroll your child in public schools and how to find the resources from Texas Home School Coalition on how to homeschool. Some parents may be concerned that private schools have to follow local or state orders when it comes to opening (or being forced to stay closed) for the fall semester. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a letter saying that no government (including any local government) may impose a blanket ban that prevents private religious schools from opening. Governor Abbott has also said that the state government will not require a delay in the opening of public or private schools. In fact, Texas Education Mike Morath recently said:

“Our objective is to get as many kids as possible on campus as long as it is safe… But we know on-campus instruction is really the best instructional setting for the vast majority of our students in Texas. Please don’t feel compelled to use this transition period unless your local conditions deem it necessary.”

And a recent Texas Education Agency COVID-19 guideline document recently stated that:

”Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that COVID-19 risks must be balanced with the need for children to attend school in person, given that lack of physical access to school leads to a number of negative consequences, placing “children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity, and in some case, mortality.”

Parents need to be aware of radical sex education that the school district may be pushing. In many Texas school districts, radical sex-education is being adopted without parental input, or is being hidden from parents. We encourage all parents to ask for and thoroughly review the sex-education curriculum at their child’s school. Far too often, groups like Planned Parenthood and pro-LGBT groups seek to use sex-education curriculum in schools to advance their agendas. Parents have the right to know what is being taught to their children and the ability to tell the district to opt-out their child from sex-education. TEC 28.004(i)(2)(B).

Thankfully, SB 22, the 2019 state law that prohibits government transactions with abortion providers, has made the Planned Parenthood sex education curriculum illegal in Austin ISD (and the same for all public schools in Texas). Nevertheless, school districts are looking to a variety of sources for radical pro-abortion and pro-LGBT sex education programs and many activists advocated for dangerous, comprehensive sex education at the Texas State Board of Education. For more information about the dangers of comprehensive sex education, see our townhall here.

Some Texas school districts still have so-called sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies that allow men into girls’ showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms.  The lack of a statewide standard on privacy in government buildings and schools contributes to an emerging patchwork of inconsistent local rules – many of which were adopted behind closed doors with no input from parents or the taxpayers (as has been the case in Coppell ISD, Dripping Springs ISD, and Fort Worth ISD, to name a few).

Fortunately, some Texas school districts have recently rejected these dangerous and controversial policies SOGI (see our victories in Wimberley ISD and Mansfield ISD). A private, nongovernmental entity called the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) often writes model policies related to sexual orientation and gender identity in schools with no legal authority. Yet, school districts feel compelled to follow this organization because of its namesake.

The issue has not stopped with privacy in locker-rooms. There is now an increase of men unfairly competing against women in sports. In Connecticut, female track athletes sued after biological male athletes were allowed to run in women’s track races and unfairly beat the top female athletes in the state.  The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office determined that allowing transgender girls to compete as girls in high school sports violated the civil rights of athletes who have always identified as female.  The State of Idaho also recently passed favorable legislation into law on this issue.

Religious liberty will become more threatened as many radical groups are pushing to have LGBT issues and anti-Christian values be taught in all major courses. Many school districts are planning to adopt so-called cultural competence plans that pressure students to remain silent about their Christian beliefs for fear of punishment encoded in the student handbook. Students and teachers could be punished for using the wrong preferred pronoun or forgetting to ask about pronouns. See our post on Carroll ISD.

Our Texas Values team stands ready to do whatever we can to make sure any efforts to change local policy, guidelines or practices on these issues at the school, district, city, or county level is done in full-view of the public and with significant community input. Parents have a right to know what’s happening in their child’s life, particularly while their child is on public school or any other government property.

It’s also important to know that President Trump has rescinded a set of Obama-era bathroom guidelines which forced public schools to allow young men and boys into bathrooms and locker rooms with little girls in all public schools and other government facilities covered by Title IX. Your school is no longer forced by the federal government to let boys into girls’ private facilities, and vice versa, local policy however may be different. If you see, or hear, about this happening in your school, please reach out to us.

VIOLATION HOTLINE: Texas Values urges parents to call (512) 478-2220 or email [email protected] to report any school or district policy or action that violates parental rights, privacy, religious liberty or similar concerns in other government buildings.

In addition to a reasonable expectation of privacy, students have numerous freedoms protected by laws such as the Texas Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberty Act and the Merry Christmas Law (both of which Texas Values team members helped to pass). There is a strong record of court cases decided in the favor of these rights for parents and students. Such freedoms include:

If public school students, parents, faculty, or staff experience or notice what they believe is a violation of any of these rights, Texas Values may be contacted at [email protected] or (512) 478-2220 for reporting of such incidents.

More Resources:

For more information on Texas’ Merry Christmas Law, please visit MerryChristmasTexas.com.

For more information on court cases that support personal and religious freedom in schools see First Liberty’s website here.

A Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers provided by First Liberty may be downloaded here.

Read the Trump administration’s letter rescinding Obama’s school bathroom guidelines here.

Written by Jonathan Saenz and Jonathan Covey

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