FORT WORTH – A federal judge in Fort Worth has blocked Obama administration guidelines that require the nation’s public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity or risk losing federal funding.
It's a legal victory for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led Texas and 12 other states in opposition to the administration’s order.
“We asked the federal judge if he would expedite it because school is starting and we wanted school districts to know where they stood," Paxton told WFAA.
The federal judge signed his ruling on Sunday, the day before school started across the state.
In the 38-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor said the “status quo” should remain in place nationwide until the court rules on the case, or a federal appeals court provides further guidance.
The judge said the administration didn't correctly enact the order and include public input.
"Remember, what is important about this finding, to get a preliminary injunction you have to show and the judge has to agree we are likely to win on the merits when we get to trial," added Paxton.
"This is a start down the right road for him for sure. It's not the end of the road," explained Shonn Brown, a Dallas Attorney who has both represented and sued school districts.
She said this case is far from over.
"I think this gets us a little bit closer to kicking this up to the Supreme Court,” Brown added.
If the Obama administration appeals, the case gets elevated to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
At the center of it, students like Trevor Baize, 10.
"I'm just afraid what will happen," Baize told WFAA.
He was born Felicity but transitioned to Trevor and is now starting school in Fort Worth. Of the 86,000 students in Fort Worth ISD, less than a dozen are believed to be transgender like Trevor.
“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy while using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor wrote in the order on Sunday. He added: “The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because Defendant’s actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues every year throughout each child’s educational career.”
“The resolution of this difficult policy decision is not, however, the subject of this order,” he said.
The lawsuit stems from guidelines issued in early May by the Obama administration, which state that discrimination against transgender individuals violates federal nondiscrimination statutes, including the Title IX prohibition on discrimination based on sex at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
Those protections, the administration said, extend to gender identity and give transgender students the right to use their preferred bathrooms in public school, requiring schools to treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX compliance, the guidelines say.
At a hearing Aug. 12, the first in the case against the federal government, a member of the Texas attorney general’s team told O’Connor that the federal government “usurped” the authority of states and schools by requiring that “sexes must be mixed” in “intimate areas” like bathrooms.
In his order, O’Connor said the injunction should apply nationwide rather than just to schools in the court’s jurisdiction, as requested by the Obama administration, noting that “states who do not want to be covered by this injunction can easily avoid doing so by state law.”
The injunction “therefore only applies to those states whose laws direct separation,” he said. “However, an injunction should not unnecessarily interfere with litigation currently pending before other federal courts on this subject regardless of the state law.”