The Obama administration — through a joint letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice — issued a directive on the use of school bathrooms by transgender students. And although the letter does not carry the force of law, school officials seem to be getting a clear message — follow the directive or face loss of federal funding.
This directive has erupted a firestorm in north Georgia’s Fannin County. Last week, parents in Fannin County marched in protest of a plan that would allow unisex bathrooms in the schools.
Many also packed a meeting room in front of the Fannin County school board after school officials said that Fannin County will follow federal laws that mandate administrators allow transgender students to use the restroom assigned to the gender they identify with.
Fannin County Superintendent Mark Henson sent a letter to parents that said the school district stood to lose about $3.5 million in federal funding. But parents have responded by voicing concerns over safety for their children. Some have even threatened to pull their children out of the school system.
State School Superintendent Richard Woods said he is studying the issue before making recommendations or taking any action.
“Unfortunately we just learned of this action and prefer to carefully consider policy before making recommendations or taking actions,” said Woods is a prepared statement.
“With that said, my first priority is to ensure our schools are a safe environment for students. I believe there are safety concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom alongside students of the opposite sex. We will communicate with districts when we’ve had time to fully evaluate the issue.”
House Speaker David Ralston has written a letter to U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue asking them to “look into this matter and take appropriate action to protect our students and our local educators from the heavy hand of the federal government.”
Ralston argues that tying the decision to federal funding is “a vast overreach of federal authority and one that must not go unchallenged.”
Some Republican governors have spoken out against the issue, however, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has been quiet on the debate so far.
Officials from the U.S. Justice and Education Departments have repeatedly emphasized that under their interpretation of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law in education, schools receiving federal funds may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status.