Special Reports

School districts working with transgender students as state lawmakers debate 'bathroom bill'

Bathroom Bill

EL PASO, Texas - Texas Senate Bill 6 - mostly known as the "bathroom bill" - would require transgender students to use the school bathroom or locker room based on their gender at birth, not the sex they currently identify with.

While that battle plays out in Austin, El Paso area school districts are moving ahead with plans to accommodate transgender students.

Click here to read the text of Senate Bill 6

Pat O'Neil, the Ysleta Independent School District's Associate Superintendent of Operations, told ABC-7 the district doesn't have a specific policy, but does have practices in place for dealing with transgender students.
"We offer them the nurses office, and also in some schools, single person rest rooms that faculty use," O'Neil said, adding the issue is nothing new and the district has had to address issues with transgender students for years.

"Principals have handled it seamlessly. Have not had one call from a parent concerned. So, that tells me that the campuses are doing a good job," O'Neil said.

Last May, the Departments of Justice and Education sent district's a "dear colleague letter" stating public schools should allow students to use the bathroom matching the gender they currently identify with.

Click here to read to the "Dear Colleague" letter

The directive was non-binding, but some felt it contained an implicit funding threat. That led to a judge blocking the order in August and this January the introduction of Texas Senate Bill 6.

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is a big proponent of Senate Bill 6.  "You can mark today as the day that Texas drew a line in the sand and said no," Patrick told a group of reporters after the bill was introduced.

"The privacy and safety of Texans is our first priority. Not political correctness," said Patrick.

Parents ABC-7 spoke with seemed to agree.  "I would say, yes, because of being a girl they need to go to the girls restroom. Being a boy needs to go to the boys restroom," said Nancy Torres.

"I wouldn't want to discriminate against anyone, but I really don't see how with school security and everything that they can keep everything together," said another parent, Kimberley Sullivan.

While safety may be the big issue for parents and politicians, Eastwood High School students, some of them members of the school's Gay and Straight Alliance, told ABC-7 high schools are a lot more accepting nowadays.

Karine Erwin, a junior at Eastwood, fought back tears while "trying not to get worked up."

"It makes me emotional. It makes me angry. I don't want to say dehumanizing ... but it is! I'm very passionate about LGBTQ rights and I feel like discriminatory. It's not right," said Erwin.

Senior Noelle Trejo agreed. "I don't think it's necessarily paranoia, but I think that through the generations, we've seen a lot of progress for LGBTQ rights. So it's just become a lot more common place and people have become a lot more accustomed to LGTBQ people in their immediate surroundings," Trejo said.

Ashley Franco didn't hesitate when asked if she would feel unsafe having a student, born as a boy, who now identifies as a girl, using the restroom or locker room next to her.  "I would feel perfectly safe. I don't think there's anything wrong with it," she said.

Some people see the use of single stall rest rooms, like in a nurse's office, a reasonable compromise. Yet, some organizations feel that in itself is discrimination and would like transgender students to have access to the rest room based on how they currently identify.

Senior Christian Perez is in agreement.  "Making them use another restroom is discriminatory because it's taking them away from the population and I believe there should be a way that a person can use a restroom even if it has multiple stalls," Perez said.

Erwin added, "Somebody might have anxiety issues and that might really help with the anxiety, but then again on the flipside it could be something that could trigger anxiety because 'oh everybody knows' I'm going to the bathroom. I'm walking to the faculty bathroom. Everybody knows."

For now, YISD says it's ready to adapt and looking toward the future while it builds or remodels schools and that could mean more single stall rest rooms.

"At Eastwood yes. At Bel Air Middle School we've talked about it. At all our new schools. Any time you do a new school you don't want to build and then react and have to go back and create. So you want to have that in mind as you go forward. You know forward thinking," said O'Neil.

ABC-7 reached out the El Paso ISD, Socorro ISD, Canutillo ISD, and Fabens ISD. We were told they didn't have policies in place for dealing with transgender students.

The El Paso ISD told ABC-7 the district includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its protection clauses for students and currently deal with transgender students on a case-by-case basis and believe those students and their parents are satisfied with the district's efforts.

SISD told us they also deal with transgender students on a case-by-case basis.

The Canutillo ISD said they consider all students needs on a individual basis and are committed to providing any services, support and guidance so they are given equal access to an optimal learning environment.

The Fabens and Tornillo ISDs told ABC-7 the issue hasn't arisen and the districts have not taken a stance on Senate Bill 6.    

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