Texas state Senator Konni Burton has gotten a lot of attention in the past week. Burton is the author of SB 242, a bill that is designed to allow parents access to information about their own children while they are in school.
But earlier this week, several news outlets and LGBTQ advocacy groups published articles claiming that Burton’s bill would “force schools to ‘out’ students to their parents against their will.”
John Wright wrote this for the New Civil Rights Movement:
Under Burton’s Senate Bill 242, teachers and other school employees who fail to disclose a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity to parents could face discipline, even if the student requests that the information be withheld.
If passed, SB 242 would place LGBT youth in the conservative state at risk for abuse, neglect or suicide if their parents aren’t accepting. It could even expose them to the dangerous, discredited practice of “reparative therapy,” which happens to be endorsed in the Texas GOP platform.
Burton, a Republican from Fort Worth, said on her website Thursday that she drafted SB 242 in response to transgender guidelines adopted by the Fort Worth school district earlier this year. As originally written, the Fort Worth guidelines barred faculty and staff from disclosing a student’s transgender status to parents. However, following a hateful campaign by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the school district revised the guidelines, eliminating the prohibition on parental notification.
Equality Texas also came out against the bill, and Daniel Williams (who has worked as a legislative aide and analyst with the Texas Legislature) was not a fan, to say the least. Williams wrote on his blog, in part:
“Teachers are there to teach our kids, not spy on them. Burton’s vision of an Orwellian school environment where every move is reported is nightmarish – but worse, it’s deadly.
Konni Burton’s SB 242 will kill children.”
The claim was quickly shared via social media, creating a wave of backlash against Burton and SB 242:
awful lot of kids going to get murdered or forced into suicide by their parents because of this bill
— What a terrible night to be a terrible werecat (@Herracks) November 17, 2016
— Meghan Stabler (@MeghanStabler) November 18, 2016
In short, @KonniBurton's bill will endanger the lives of LGBTQ children in Texas and should be blocked.
— Jordan Gavaris (@JordanGavaris) November 20, 2016
— Anthony Oliveira (@meakoopa) November 21, 2016
But a quick reading of SB 242 suggests that their fears might be unfounded. The law would give parents access to — upon request — all records pertinent to their children, whether they be academic, behavioral, or health-related.
SB 242 would not force school officials to volunteer any information, but it would mandate that the school provide any and all information requested by parents. School officials would be held liable if they hid information from the parents — even if they did so at the student’s request.
And Senator Burton’s office confirmed that, offering an official response. They pointed out that most of SB 242 is simply a clarification of laws that already exist in Texas:
Unfortunately there is a great deal of misinformation being spread about this proposed bill so it’s important to understand what is already existing state law. Please read the current state laws securing a parent’s right to know, which already include full access to attendance records, test scores, grades, disciplinary records, counseling records, psychological records, applications for admission, health and immunization information, teacher and school counselor evaluations, and reports of behavioral patterns. Let me repeat: a parent already has a right to know this information about their child in the state of Texas.
Also it is important to note that in existing state law any attempt by a school district employee to encourage or coerce a child to withhold information from the child’s parent is grounds for discipline. Many people have expressed dismay about a parent’s right to know anything or that teachers may face discipline for undermining a parent’s right to know, however, these provisions are already the law in Texas.
They also noted that the bill does not require “spontaneous reporting,” but rather just ensures parents’ right to information that they are actively seeking.
Beyond that, the bill does not require a school district employee to stop everything they’re doing and reach out to a parent. Again, state law already secures a parent’s right to know on numerous elements of their child’s life and teachers today are not expected, asked, or mandated to stop mid-lesson to reach a parent. Currently, a teacher may decide when and how to proactively reach out to a parent about anything of importance to them, which is how it should work. The proposed bill does absolutely nothing to change this present mechanism for a parent’s right to know. The bill does, however, strengthen the existing expectation that when a parent contacts a school and inquires about their child, they will receive accurate information and not be punished by local policies that while well-intended, do more harm than good.
They even addressed the number of outlets which had already run with a misleading story, perpetuating fear rather than understanding.
A spokesperson within Burton’s office told Independent Journal Review that, prior to our conversation, only one outlet — The Houston Chronicle — had actually contacted Burton’s office for clarification on the bill.
“Many of the extremely sad and dire scenarios being spread by those who peddle in misinformation and stoke the flames of fear are not only incongruous to the proposed bill as written, they are incongruous with existing state law. In short: parents and schools have always been partners in the education and rearing of children, and they have always exchanged information in the best interest of the child. However, myself and others witnessed firsthand a local school in my district attempt to subvert that relationship. Fortunately, local uproar and an Attorney General Opinion upholding the existing laws surrounding a parent’s right to know caused the school district to re-embrace that partnership between its employees and the parents, and the end result was a win for everyone. However, our proposed bill makes sure that such an attempt by a school district does not happen again by streamlining and strengthening those existing protections for parents.”
Independent Journal Review also spoke directly with Senator Burton, who has been understandably dismayed by the portrayal of her bill in the media:
“The intentional misinformation and fear-mongering that has occurred surrounding SB 242 is extremely saddening, and unfortunately these tactics are becoming a regular part of politics today.
Early ‘reports’ on the bill were written without even the most basic legwork done to fully understand what a parent’s current rights to know are and how my proposal would substantively impact those provisions.
These reports were full of highly charged buzz-words that have nothing to do with my proposal and serve only to create a false narrative meant to scare or anger individuals. The most elementary review of the existing state laws and my proposed bill would reveal that many of the provisions being reported as ‘dangerous’ are in fact already the law in Texas and have been for decades.
It is clear that the intention of these bloggers was not to report on the facts, but instead to create divisive content for the purpose of inflaming an audience, thus keeping their site relevant. While it may gratify these individuals greatly to cause trouble for those they wrongly assume are political adversaries, rest assured that I am unmoved by their tactics; however, I deeply empathize with the average person out there who has been made to feel threatened unnecessarily.
There’s always room for improvement on proposed legislation, but when people first scream with false assumptions, name calling and hateful rhetoric, it’s nearly impossible to come back down and have a civil discussion. And that is the shame of it all.
Texans deserves a healthier discourse than that.”
Burton’s main goal, as stated in her defense of the bill, was to keep the lines of communication open between school and home so that both parents and teachers could work together in the best interests of the children.