UPDATE: March 3, 2022: Texas District Judge Amy Meachum temporarily blocked an investigation launched in response to Gov. Greg Abbott's directive, saying the family being investigated "face the imminent and ongoing deprivation of their constitutional rights, the potential loss of necessary medical care, and the stigma attached to being the subject of an unfounded child abuse investigation."
A hearing that could result in a temporary statewide injunction is set for Friday, March 11.
UPDATE: March 1, 2022: A week after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the state's Department of Family and Protective Services encouraging the agency to investigate parents of transgender children receiving gender-affirming medical care for child abuse, DFPS launched an investigation into one of its own employees who has a transgender child and works on the review of reports of abuse and neglect.
The employee has been placed on administrative leave, and other investigations are also underway, The New York Times reports. The decision to investigate, and more broadly the power of the governor to change the definition of child abuse, is being challenged in state court in a lawsuit brought by local civil rights organization Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday called on licensed professionals — including teachers and nurses — to report parents for child abuse if their children are receiving gender-affirming medical care, in a letter to the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services.
In the letter, Abbott also directed the agency “to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas” and said there would be “criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse.” Reporting and penalties would also apply to the general public.
The announcement comes shortly after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion saying gender-affirming treatment constitutes child abuse. However, advocates say the announcements are not enforceable under state law and caution districts not to change their current practices.
The announcement was met with swift reaction from at least one Texas district as well as from national education and civil rights organizations. “We protect all our kids at Austin ISD, no matter what, and that goes for our trans kids, too,” Austin Independent School District tweeted.
The Biden administration — including Education Secretary Miguel Cardona — has also so far supported policies protecting the rights of LGBTQ students.
Kevin Munoz, assistant press secretary for the White House, denounced the Texas attorney general’s opinion in an email.
“The Texas Attorney General’s attack on loving parents who seek medical care for their transgender children is dangerous to the health of kids in Texas and part of much larger trend of conservative officials cynically attacking LGBTQI+ youth to score political points,” Munoz said.
Alabama’s state legislature, for example, recently approved a ban, now headed to the state House, on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender minors. Other states trying to advance similar measures include Arizona and Utah.
For now, unless the Texas legislature follows suit with Abbott, the law remains the same, advocates from the state said. “I would say to keep supporting your students,” said Adri Perez, policy & advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, in a press briefing. “Let them know that you have their back and don't do anything differently.”
Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said teachers there will continue to do as much.
“Under the actual law, teachers are required to report suspected cases of real child abuse,” she said in an email to K-12 Dive. “But teachers will not be the transgender police to help Abbott and Paxton with an insensitive and potentially dangerous political stunt. Teachers will not harass vulnerable transgender kids and subject them to potential bullying.”
Although many education leaders say they will not be following Abbott and Paxton’s urging, the announcements still make the climate in Texas unsafe for transgender students and families, said Kimberly Shappley, mother of Kai Shappley, a transgender student, in a press briefing. “We've already had to move our family once because it was unsafe in the town that we came from.”
“School psychologists work to be a trusted adult in their school buildings and provide affirming and effective mental and behavioral health services to students,” said Sheila Desai, director of educational practice for the National Association of School Psychologists. “Trans youth may be hesitant to engage in these services if there is fear around their parents being reported for child abuse.”
Shappley said she is considering moving her family again as a result of the announcements.
However, school leaders and licensed school professionals are still pushing to keep schools safe environments for transgender students.
“This directive is appalling and discriminatory,” said Ronn Nozoe, CEO of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in an email. “NASSP is opposed to any actions that threaten school leaders’ ability to build trust and a safe environment.”.
Nozoe added, “School leaders work tirelessly to build a culture where students can learn and be respected for who they are.”