The battle over sex and sexuality in schools is going to new extremes. As discussed in a previous post, a lot of the conflict is driven by a mutual lack of trust between the schools and the parents of the students they teach. Two recent examples from Texas show that overreach by conservative government officials is also driving the conflict.
In many places, parents do not trust school officials to be honest with them when it comes to their children. One particular incident in Loudoun County has loomed especially large and played a significant role in Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory in the Virginia governor’s race. In 2021, a 14-year-old girl in Loudoun County was sexually assaulted in a girl’s bathroom by a boy wearing a skirt. There was a lot of noise made that the assault was a result of the school’s Trans-friendly policy regarding bathroom use. Senator Tom Cotton claimed the girl: “was raped in a bathroom by a boy wearing girls’ clothes and the School Board covered it up because it would interfere with their transgender policy during pride month.” That probably isn’t true. In fact, the school district’s trans-inclusive bathroom policies were not even in place yet at the time of the assault.
What is true though, is that the parents had reason to believe that the district covered up the assault. According to The Hill: “An email to school board members from Superintendent Scott Ziegler show[ed] that he was aware of the alleged assault a month before denying any knowledge of it. ”
This incident fed into parental concerns that they were being kept out of the loop about all sorts of sex and sexuality-related issues ranging from possible inappropriate material being taught to young children to worries that their children were being encouraged to alter their gender identity. It is very difficult to know how much, if any, if this was actually happening, but parents demanded laws that gave them more control, or at least awareness, of what is being taught in schools. This gave rise to laws such as the so-called “do not say gay” law in Florida and a Texas law that requires that before any student may be provided with human sexuality instruction, a school district must obtain the written consent of the student’s parent. ”
Reasonable people can debate how much input parents should have on their child’s sex education, but the Attorney General of Texas has thrown fuel on the fire by interpreting the Texas law extremely broadly. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a letter last week to the Austin Independent School District warning them that their celebration of Pride Week is illegal. He singled out the school’s community discussion circles in which students were encouraged to discuss sexuality issues and were told to keep anything that was said confidential.
Like Florida law, Texas law only requires parental consent for instruction, which is obviously different from student discussions. But Attorney General Paxton is taking the position that student discussion is a form of instruction and is therefore covered by state law. Blurring the line between what a teacher says to the students and what students say to one another would have wide consequences. Can students still discuss religion with one another for example?
Meanwhile, The Los Angeles Blade has just reported that a school superintendent in North Texas has told school librarians to remove books about Trans persons from the library shelves, resulting in some 30 books being removed. According to the Blade, the superintendent told the librarians: “Specifically, what we’re getting at, let’s call it what it is, and I’m cutting to the chase on a lot of this. It’s the transgender, LGBTQ and the sex – sexuality – in books. That’s what the governor has said that he will prosecute people for, and that’s what we’re pulling out. “
The Blade also quoted the superintendent as saying: “And I’m going to take it a step further with you. There are two genders. There’s male, and there’s female. And I acknowledge that there are men that think they’re women. And there are women that think they’re men. And again, I do not have any issues with what people want to believe, but there’s no place for it in our libraries. ”
So conservative parents do not trust the schools to protect their children or to keep them informed about what they are teaching their kids about sex and sexuality. And progressive parents certainly do not trust conservative state governments to be anything but extreme in regulating discussion of LGBTQ issues in school.
In short, nobody trusts anybody else. If parents, teachers, and government officials can not start communicating with one another more openly and honestly, the situation will likely continue to escalate.