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Obama administration tells schools to do the ‘right thing' on bathrooms for transgender students

President Barack Obama calls on the country’s public schools to do the ‘right thing’ and allow transgendered students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. The move is in response to the controversy over HB2 in North Carolina.
President Barack Obama calls on the country’s public schools to do the ‘right thing’ and allow transgendered students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. The move is in response to the controversy over HB2 in North Carolina. AP

The Obama administration is directing public schools across the country to let transgender students use bathrooms that match their gender identity, a move that will expand nationally the argument over North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law.

The letter going out Friday from officials of the Education and Justice departments sets out the agencies’ view of what schools need to do under current federal law to provide an environment for students free of discrimination.

The letter, first reported by the New York Times, carries no specific threat for schools that do not comply. But the threat is implicit because violations of federal civil rights law can lead to a loss of federal aid to a school district, or enforcement action by the Justice Department.

It may be a moot point for metro-east districts. Collinsville Community District 10 schools have a plan in place, school liasion Kim Collins said, although their legal council is reviewing Obama’s directive.

“There are private restrooms available at every school,” Collins said.

She said any student can request a meeting with the administration to make arrangements that are comfortable for the student, and that the district’s police is to make sure the needs of each student are met and also to ensure the safety and privacy of all students.

The district’s legal council is studying the directive to ensure compliance, Collins said.

O’Fallon Township High School District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway said the directive would have no effect on how the district handles the needs of transgender students.

“OTHS works with our transgender students and their families to identify and meet their needs. Each transgender student has unique needs, challenges, and conditions regarding their gender identity,” she said in a statement.

The letter amplifies a national debate over gender identity and privacy that was kicked off by North Carolina’s law declaring that transgender people must use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. The state’s Legislature adopted the law to block an effort by the city of Charlotte that would have allowed transgender individuals to use facilities for the sex with which they identify.

The Justice Department and the state of North Carolina have already sued each other in federal court, with both sides seeking a ruling on whether the state law conflicts with federal civil rights legislation adopted half a century ago.

North Carolina officials argue that their law protects people who do not want to use private facilities with people of the opposite biological gender.

Each transgender student has unique needs, challenges, and conditions regarding their gender identity.

O’Fallon Superintendent Darcy Benway

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in announcing that the federal government would take the state to court, had condemned the North Carolina law as “state-sponsored discrimination.”

The Obama administration bases its view on Title IX of the civil rights law, which says that schools receiving federal money can’t discriminate based on a student’s sex.

Officials concede that the law was not adopted with transgender individuals in mind, but say that discriminating against a student based on gender identity is a form of improper sex discrimination.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a written statement.

“Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law,” King said.

“We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

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