Top Kentucky Republicans – including Gov. Matt Bevin – vowed Friday to resist the Obama administration’s directive ordering schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race earlier this month, declined comment.
Kentucky schools, Bevin said in a statement, “should not feel compelled to bow to such intimidation.” He was joined by the top Republican in the Kentucky House, Jeff Hoover, who said he was figuring out how to challenge the order. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, did not return calls.
President Barack Obama issued the directive amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina over transgender bathroom laws. Obama directed public schools to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.
Under the guidance, a school must recognize a student’s chosen gender identity as soon as a parent or guardian notifies the district the gender identity “differs from previous representation or records.”
The guidance does not impose any new legal requirements but could have an effect on federal money. Officials say it’s meant to clarify expectations of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding.
“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,” Education Secretary John B. King said in a statement.
Obama’s directive is an example of why there shouldn’t be a U.S. Department of Education, said U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., in a statement.
“Neither the president nor Congress, and certainly not either acting alone, has the constitutional authority to determine bathroom policy in the 50 states,” Massie said in the statement. “Along with common-core and school lunch mandates, the recent bathroom edict is another reason why we should abolish the federal Department of Education.”
Here’s reaction from schools and leaders around the region:
- Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin: “It is difficult to imagine a more absurd federal overreach into a local issue. Under the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the federal government has no authority to interfere in local school districts’ bathroom policies. The President is not promoting unity. In fact, he is doing quite the opposite. He is intentionally dividing America by threatening to sue or withhold funding from our cash-strapped public schools if they do not agree with his personal opinion on policies that remain squarely in their jurisdiction. They should not feel compelled to bow to such intimidation. My administration is researching the options available for ensuring that this local issue is decided by Kentuckians, not by bureaucrats in Washington.”
- Ed Massey, vice chairman of the Boone County School Board: “If somebody is transgender, I’m not here to judge them. Gay, straight, transgender, it is our obligation to provide for them, but I think for the president to make a swift decision like this in his last presidential year is a significant overreach without getting input from the educational community. It bothers me when people in Washington several thousand miles away tell us how to run our districts.”
- Karen Matia, superintendent of Lakota Local School District: “Lakota Local Schools follows all state and federal laws, guidelines and directives. With regard to transgender students, we will continue working closely with our legal counsel to understand how the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education impacts our day-to-day work. Our staff will continue to collaborate with families and students on an individual basis in accordance with the law and with respect to student privacy.”
- Tracey Carson, public information officer Mason Schools: “Mason City Schools didn’t need the federal government to tell us how to treat students. The practices in this ‘Dear Colleague’ letter are what we’re already doing. We care deeply about each child in our schools and work with families to ensure that each child feels safe and included so that he or she can learn. If a child is identified as transgender, we work with that child, the child’s family and their medical professionals to ensure that we are meeting our student’s needs.”
- Susan Lang, superintendent of Wyoming City Schools: “We recognize that this conversation is a powerful civil rights issue in our country today. A public education means that we support all of our students K-12.”
- Kentucky Republican House Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown in Western Kentucky: “Kentucky will not be held hostage to President Obama, particularly when it comes to the safety of the children in our schools. President Obama has already waged war on our coalfields, and the result has been the devastating loss of more than 19,000 Kentucky jobs. Today, the Obama administration took its war from the Kentucky coalfield to the Kentucky classroom. I will not stand for this type of gross federal overreach that goes against the values of most Kentuckians. Kentucky’s schools should be regulated on the local level and not have the policies of Washington liberals forced upon them. If this directive stands, I will consider every measure to ensure it is challenged in Kentucky.”
In September, Troy Junior High School came under fire first for not having a policy when a transgender male student wanted to use the male bathroom. Later, some parents railed against the school for implementing a policy that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom matching their gender identity.
The Ohio School Board Association weighed in, helping Troy school officials to craft a policy for transgender students.
But disputes like that are few and far between, said Grant Stancliff, spokesman for Equality Ohio.
While the U.S. Department of Education’s recommendation might make lives easier for some Ohio students, “this has been pretty much implicit policy for a while,” Stancliff said.
Ohio Department of Education officials are reviewing the federal guidance before taking any steps. Still, “all students deserve a safe and positive learning environment,” spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said. Gov. John Kasich, who recently ended a bid to become the GOP presidential nominee, declined to comment.
Ohio law already requires that schools have policies against bullying and penalties for students that break them. In November 2014, the Ohio High School Athletic Association developed policies for transgender athletes that detail when students are eligible to play on male or female teams.
“Transgender student athletes should have equal opportunity to participate in sports,” the policy reads.
Still, Ohio’s GOP-controlled legislature has not passed nondiscrimination proposals, introduced repeatedly by Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker. On Friday, she introduced a bill to make it easier to prosecute hate crimes committed based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
And Rep. John Becker, R-Union Township in Clermont County, is working on a bathroom bill to protect people against those who pretend to be transgender to access women’s bathrooms. Stancliff said this isn’t a problem in Ohio.
Reporters Jessie Balmert, Jeremy Fugelberg and James Pilcher and the Associated Press contributed.