Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tilting at Illusory Cultural Windmills: Ken Paxton Edition

I would like to think that if my taxpayer money was being spent on culture litigation by some atheist liberal, I would voice misgivings. Thus, I sort of shook my head this week when I read Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton came to the aid of tiny Harrold Independent School District's new bathroom policy. My source was a Texas Tribune story by Morgan Smith that Paxton's march to join the culture wars was compelled by that school district's decision to protect it's students from the federal government:
'Harrold Independent School District fulfilled a responsibility to their community and adopted a bathroom policy that puts the safety of their students first,' [Paxton] said in a press conference. “Unfortunately the policy placed them at odds with federal directives handed down earlier this month. That means the district is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration, which has maintained it will punish anyone who doesn’t comply with their orders.'
Ah, but the The Trib added this little jewel about the Privy Policy and my head exploded:
[Paxton] didn't say his office asked the district to pass the policy.
Nor did [Paxton] say what The Texas Tribune has now learned: that his staff had approached another North Texas school district about pursuing the policy — and the lawsuit — 10 days earlier. 
First, that Texas' top lawyer solicited several school districts to pass a policy for the purpose of filing a lawsuit would make the most brazen ambulance chasing lawyer blush. Well, on second thought, perhaps not. We are a shameless lot after all. Seriously, though, is there a true legal controversy when the lawyer bringing the lawsuit was responsible for creating the basis for which it was brought in the first place?

A little on the new center of the Federal Government Usurpation War and whose Potty Policy cost of defense is now subject to the tax paying public of Texas. Harrold is in far North Texas, in Wilbarger County, a few miles north (off Hwy 287) of Wichita Falls. Harrold has a population of 188 people. According to an recent Associated Press story, K-12 grade census at Harrold ISD is 100 students and 4 students made up the 2016 graduating class.

The Harrold ISD Water Closet Commandment can be read in toto here. According to the AP story, Harrold ISD Superintendent David Thweat saw the danger necessitating the policy as follows
Kindergarteners and high school students in Harrold share 10 bathrooms in a single brick schoolhouse that is shorter than the football field, where the Harrold Hornets play six-man football because there are not enough players for 11. A few times a day, a train rumbles past the schoolhouse. Superintendent David Thweatt says 'hobos' sometimes jump off and wander toward campus. Once, he said, a drifter holed up in a school bus and left a smell that took days to air out.
It's those sorts of strangers, Thweatt says, who could take advantage of bathroom rights for students who are transgender. Even the mere word made him fidget Wednesday while sitting in the teacher's lounge, where Thweatt is used to visiting with reporters. 
Hold the Phone. Did Thweatt really says the policy is to protect "[the] bathroom rights for students who are transgender?" Is that a misprint? If Thweatt was quoted accurtately, then let me get this straight: When Paxton said the lawsuit was necessary because 'Harrold Independent School District fulfilled a responsibility to their community and adopted a bathroom policy that puts the safety of their students first..." he was speaking about the safety of transgender students at the Harrold school? What? So this lawsuit is about federal usurpation of a local school board decision designed to protect the transgender student population of a farming and ranching community of 188 people?

 For the Love of Pete.

Reading about Harrold made me think of Larry McMurtry, the author who grew up in Archer City, a 30 minute drive from Harrold. In particular I thought of McMurtry's The Last Picture Show, McMurtry's tale told from the point of view of two high school seniors set in 1950's Thalia, his stand in for his dusty hometown. I found this useful summary of one of the sub-plots of the novel, soft pedaled in the movie version of the same name:
Coach Popper secretly has his eye on the quarterback, Bobby Logan, and becomes enraged when Bobby starts spending too much time in the company of a male teacher. The coach spreads a rumor that the teacher is gay, and the school board immediately fires him.
Yep, there is potential danger of predatory behavior in North Texas schools. Just no evidence of the kind Harrold ISD sees in their neck of the Texas prairie. Here is a money quote in the Trib story from a Wichita Falls school board member following that board's decision to take a pass on Paxton's Solicitous Proceeding:
'I feel like in this situation we’ve been put between a rock and a hard place by both the federal and our state government where we are the ones who would be the sacrificial lambs effectively in this fight,' said [Wichita Falls] board member Elizabeth Yeager. 'I think that would be completely a waste of time and a distraction from our school business of educating students.'

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