Texas public schools can’t withhold students’ health information from parents, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion released Tuesday.
The opinion comes after a lawmaker expressed concerns that some school officials suggested to staff that student confidentiality should be respected, such as if a student identifies as transgender or nonbinary.
Paxton wrote that if schools officials fail to work with parents and provide information about their child, it could subject the district to civil liability and financial ramifications.
“Parents possess a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their child,” he wrote in the opinion, which is nonbinding.
His determination comes as Republicans across the country are leaning into “parental rights” as a rallying cry, fueled by angst over the way issues of race, gender and sexuality are discussed in classrooms.
The opinion stemmed from a request by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park. He cited concerns raised by a concerned parent about districts potentially shielding student information.
As an example, Cain attached to what appeared to be a presentation slide addressing students’ right to confidentiality. It describes how students can be referred to as something other than their legal name, but that the teacher should always use the student’s legal name when communicating with a parent – unless the student requests otherwise.
It also says that students may be called by their preferred pronouns. Some LGBT students use different pronouns or names at school, but may not feel comfortable disclosing that information to their families.
His letter also links to a document from the Texas Association of School Boards that addresses legal issues related to transgender students, including guidance on how to proceed if a student requests that a district employee not tell his or her parent about their gender identity.
It notes that “it is important to keep in mind that transgender students are at particular risk of harm, including self harm, when a parent disagrees with the student’s gender identity.”
Cain wrote that he believes “the ideology that the government, not parents, knows what’s best for children, has infiltrated our schools in Texas.”
Paxton’s opinion includes an acknowledgment that, in rare circumstances, health care professionals are allowed to limit access to records if they determine it would be harmful to a patient’s physical, mental or emotional health.
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