Above Photo: A Grapevine High School student performs a cartwheel infront of other gathered students during a third period walkout in protest of the LGBTQ policy that the school board passed this week, in Grapevine High School on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer.
Grapevine-Colleyville school trustees adopted sweeping new rules on pronouns and bathroom use.
Grapevine, Texas – More than 100 Grapevine High School students walked out of class Friday morning in protest of new district policies that limit how teachers talk about race, gender and sexuality, impact which bathrooms transgender students can use and give trustees a greater say over what books are available in libraries.
The teenagers left class during third period as a stand against ideas they decry as transphobic and amount to a “gag” on teachers.
“We are here to show that the school board cannot get away with treating our education, our lives, as a playground for politics,” one of the organizers, Marceline Temple, said in written remarks. “We will not let this school board treat the existence of minorities as a controversy.”
A divided school board passed the policies after hours of contentious public testimony Monday night. Trustee president Casey Ford — part of a conservative majority — said they reflected the community’s values.
But LGBTQ students and allies said they represent an erasure of queer identities and put kids in danger.
Dozens of students chanted, “Protect our rights” and “protect trans kids,” as they gathered outside the school. Teenager after teenager testified about the importance of respecting the humanity of all kids.
Among the changes the students were protesting: The district would not permit equity audits and teachers wouldn’t be required to address students by pronouns inconsistent with their biological sex.
Should a student get parental permission that specifically requests a teacher use a certain pronoun for the child, staff may comply. But they are not required to use the pronouns requested by the family, allowing them to potentially misgender any transgender or nonbinary students.
Marceline is genderfluid and has used they/them pronouns since mid-2020.
“I’ve never corrected teachers or people of authority on my pronouns or name,” they wrote in a speech that was delivered by a friend. “I was scared of being invalidated and humiliated, just because of who I am.”
Now, with under the new policies, the 17-year-old said “that fear is even more real.”
The revised protocols also state that district staff should not talk about sexual orientation or gender identity until after a child has finished fifth grade and sets out rules for bathroom usage.
“To the extent permitted by law, each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility owned or operated by the District shall be designated for and used only by persons based on the person’s biological sex,” the policy states. “This policy does not prohibit the District from providing reasonable accommodations upon request.”
A raft of state policies have emerged in recent years targeting LBGTQ communities. A survey from the Trevor Project, which provides crisis support for queer young people, found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
Elements of the policies in Grapevine-Colleyville echo a previous proposal in April, which was introduced right before two new conservative trustees won seats on the GCISD board. They were backed by the Patriot Mobile Action PAC, which is tied to a Texas-based Christian cellphone company.
The group raised more than half a million dollars to elect conservative candidates in four North Texas school board races.
Conservative trustees now hold four of seven seats in Grapevine-Colleyville.
A small group of counter-protesters occasionally jeered the speakers. Some people wore shirts emblazoned with the district’s conservative trustees’ first names, calling them the “fab four.”
But there was a sense of community and joy — along with outrage — among the larger group of students. Some turned cartwheels and painted their faces with rainbows.
Police did not allow visitors or media directly on campus during the protest. But a small crowd of parents and supporters gathered on the sidewalk outside to support the teenagers.
Grapevine High Principal Alex Fingers wrote in an email to families that all students who participated in the walkout will receive an unexcused absence.
“I have encouraged our staff to provide a listening ear to students who want to discuss recent events in our district,” he wrote. “Our counselors and administrative team are also ready to have these conversations with students.”
The ACLU of Texas said the GCISD’s policies go far beyond Texas law, threaten First Amendment rights and would have a chilling effect on the classroom.
The new policies are the latest escalation of education culture wars that have divided the community.
An interfaith coalition of faith leaders recently sent a letter to the district, calling the changes to protocols “nothing short of persecution.”
“Because of these policies, vulnerable children will be subject to increased bullying, humiliation, and physical, emotional, and psychological suffering,” they wrote.
The state GOP is meanwhile fundraising off of the shift, asking donors to contribute and “bring this conservative policy” targeting pronouns, bathroom access, books and critical race theory to each of the state’s more than 1,000 public school districts.
Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism. More recently, Republican pundits have conflated schools’ diversity and equity work — such as anti-racism training and multicultural curricula — with the theory, turning it into something of a catchall.
The new Grapevine-Colleyville policies state that the district shall not use any resources or funds to support or promote critical race theory.
Last year, GCISD also protested by walking out of class — that time over how the district was treating the Colleyville Heritage principal, who is Black.
Months earlier, a former trustee candidate accused James Whitfield of wanting to introduce critical race theory into the district, which the principal denied. The board later approved a separation agreement with Whitfield.
After roughly an hour in the 90-degree heat Friday, most of the students went back inside the building. They promised to continue making their voices heard.