Schools ponder transgender order as lawsuit progresses

Schools ponder transgender order as lawsuit progresses

(Miss.) Add the Mississippi State Board of Education to the growing list of school entities vowing to disregard the policy directive from the Obama administration over transgender students and campus facilities.

In Tennessee, the state education department has said that local boards will need to decide for themselves even as the governor has signed on to a lawsuit seeking to reverse the order. In Michigan, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require parents to provide a written declaration of their child’s gender.

And in Alabama, the state Attorney General has told school board members they can ignore the May 13 guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice notifying schools nationwide that they must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

“The fact that the federal government has yet again decided that it knows what is best for every one of our local communities is insulting and, quite frankly, intolerable,” said Arizona school chief Diane Douglas in a statement.

The firestorm over the federal guidance has become fodder for political fights in a number of states, including North Carolina where the transgender issue broke open earlier this year when a law banning local anti-discrimination policies was passed by the Legislature and signed into law.

Federal officials have explained the May guidance is consistent with Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protect students' privacy related to their transgender status.

They argued that a school may not require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment or produce a birth certificate or other identification document before affording them the rights consistent with their gender identity.

Schools also have an obligation to:

Respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students, including harassment based on a student's actual or perceived gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition;

Treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents indicate a different sex; and,

Allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity.

The suit challenging the federal directive is pending before a federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas, and despite the rhetoric it has generated on both sides of the issue, school administrators are struggling with how to respond.

“It’s kind of a wait and see attitude,” Kevin Spears, superintendent of the East Central Ohio Department of Education in New Philadelphia told reporters last week.

School officials in Connecticut said that while the issue may not have been formally discussed at the district board level, many jurisdictions have been recognizing the privacy of transgender students for years.

“It has come up at some of our schools and our actions are in line with the guidance of the Department of Education,” Garth Harries, superintendent at New Haven School District, told the New Haven Register last week.

California became the first state in the country to formally recognize in the rights of K-12 transgender students with adoption of legislation in 2013. That bill requires public schools to allow students access to the restroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity.

“All students deserve a safe and supportive school environment,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement last month. “I strongly support the action by President Obama to make sure all states follow the lead of California and protect the rights of each and every student.”

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