Conflict over transgender students in schools
Read federal guidance on transgender students here.
Gov. Nathan Deal's statement on federal government guidance on transgender students:
"The Obama administration’s directive, recently announced by press release, to local school systems regarding accommodations for transgender students has generated confusion and controversy among parents, students and school officials. While I do not believe this directive carries the force of law, the Departments of Justice and Education have threatened to revoke federal funding from schools that fail to comply. Georgia’s constitution and state laws, however, require these decisions be made at the local level. While our 181 school systems must each determine an appropriate response to this federal overreach, I have asked State School Superintendent Richard Woods to provide guidance to those local school systems seeking assistance and clarity on this issue in order to ensure that there will be as much uniformity across our state as possible. Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority."
Attorney General Sam Olens' statement on federal guidance on transgender students:
“I am confident that Georgia’s parents, teachers, and local communities will take every measure necessary to ensure that no child is harassed or intimidated at school for any reason—that is our responsibility as parents and leaders. But the “Guidance” Letter recently issued by the Obama Administration addresses a sensitive and complex issue with a sledgehammer. In yet another example of executive overreach, the Administration is attempting to use executive fiat to push schools toward whatever policy outcomes it desires without any legal or constitutional support, in this case relating to dorm rooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms.”
“Parents, teachers, and local communities have the right to determine the best way to address these issues without the heavy hand of the federal government threatening to take away billions of dollars of funding that schools rely on to educate our children. As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, I will take steps, when appropriate under the law, to ensure that these decisions are being made at the appropriate level, as demanded by principles of separation of powers and federalism under our Constitution.”
State School Superintendent Richard Woods' statement on federal guidance on transgender students:
"We will carefully consider policy before making recommendations or taking actions. 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 do not need the Executive Branch of the federal government crossing the line and breaching its constitutional authority. The issuing of such a blanket statement by the President on Friday was very irresponsible. We will not allow the federal government to bully us. Schools in Georgia have and will continue to appropriately address concerns surrounding this and many other issues. Our schools will do the right thing."
Letter from State School Superintendent Richard Woods to Georgia school superintendents:
On Friday, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued a joint “Dear Colleague Letter” regarding the rights of transgender students in the K-12 education setting.
We at the Georgia Department of Education believe the "Dear Colleague Letter" openly violates, misinterprets and moves to rewrite established U.S. law. This overreach of power by the Executive Branch of the federal government is compounded by the threat to withhold federal funds should the context of the letter not be followed.
As this guidance does not have the force of law, you are not required to comply with this directive or make changes to your established actions and policies. However, if the federal government does decide to withhold federal funds, enforce this directive, or bring suit against any district in Georgia because of a decision a local district makes, we will work with all parties to take appropriate action.
The doctrine of "local control" is deeply rooted in our constitution and laws here in Georgia, and I am confident that you, as the superintendent of your district, along with your board of education and with counsel and support from your local board attorney, will continue to appropriately address concerns surrounding this complex and sensitive matter.
There are fundamental elements in all public schools, including a safe school environment and an appropriate response to the needs of individual students. Those two elements are essential and compatible and are the responsibility of local school systems.
My first priority is to ensure our schools are a safe environment for students. I believe there are safety and privacy concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom and locker rooms. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex.
In closing, I wish to thank you and the staff in your districts and schools for your excellent work and commitment to your children. Our priority in Georgia is to provide all children with the opportunity to receive a great education, and we should not allow federal politics to distract us from that priority.
State School Superintendent
The Georgia Department of Education is taking the U.S. Education and Justice departments to task for issuing guidance on the rights of transgender students that State School Superintendent Richard Woods says “openly violates, misinterprets and moves to rewrite established U.S. law.”
The clash between the state and federal governments has left local school systems to figure out what course of action to take.
Neither the Liberty nor Long county school system has decided how to handle the issue.
“The district continues to evaluate and assess all of the issues in conjunction with its legal counsel,” Liberty schools Chief Information Officer Dr. Patti Crane said in an email response to a Coastal Courier question.
In response to a Courier email, Long County schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters said the district has not faced the issue but, “In the event circumstances were to change, our local BOE will take steps to help ensure the well-being of all of our students.”
Woods called the federal “Dear Colleague” letter to school districts an “overreach … compounded by the threat to withhold federal funds.”
“As this guidance does not have the force of law, you are not required to comply with this directive or make changes to your established actions and policies,” he said in a letter to superintendents released Friday. “However, if the federal government does decide to withhold federal funds, enforce this directive or bring suit against any district in Georgia because of a decision a local district makes, we will work with all parties to take appropriate action.”
On May 13, the federal departments issued guidance to districts across the country, which the departments say provided “educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.”
“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 news release. “This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly — that gender identity is protected under Title IX. Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law.”
The release also says that “schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status” to be in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
The issue of transgender rights received renewed attention in March, when the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law, that in part banned transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates, according to The New York Times.
In a statement earlier last week, Woods said, “I believe there are safety concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom.”
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal released similar statements.
“I am confident that Georgia’s parents, teachers and local communities will take every measure necessary to ensure that no child is harassed or intimidated at school for any reason — that is our responsibility as parents and leaders,” Olens said. “But the ‘guidance’ letter recently issued by the Obama administration addresses a sensitive and complex issue with a sledgehammer.”
Deal’s statement says the federal ruling has caused confusion among students, parents and educator
“Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority.”