Calling it “an unprecedented example of executive overreach,” Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday denounced a federal guidance letter advising schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.
At issue is a letter of guidance sent by the U.S. Justice and Education departments on Friday to schools across the nation, advising them how to deal with issues arising from having transgender students in schools.
The letter made clear that the federal departments consider discrimination against or failure to protect the privacy of transgender students to be a violation of Title IX, the federal code prohibiting sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.
Brownback said the letter constitutes an “attempt to federalize local school board decisions by threatening legal action or denial of federal funding.”
A former U.S. senator, Brownback regularly denounces what he calls federal overreach on various regulatory fronts, including health care, air quality, water quality, guns and prairie chickens.
When issues involving questions of gender identity arise, it is our local communities, school leaders, and parents who will know how best to respond to specific situations. Gov. Sam Brownback
“States, not the federal government, have the primary responsibility for directing education policy,” Brownback said in Wednesday’s statement. “These policy decisions should be made by local schools and communities, not the federal government. When issues involving questions of gender identity arise, it is our local communities, school leaders, and parents who will know how best to respond to specific situations.”
Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor decided to issue a statement in response to concerns about the federal policy expressed by local school officials in news articles. He does not have a plan for responding to the federal guidance beyond his public statement opposing it, she said.
Thomas Witt, executive director of the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas, called the statement “nothing more than bigotry and rank hypocrisy.”
A Justice Department news release said the purpose of the guidance letter and an accompanying pamphlet on emerging practices for supporting transgender students was to provide legal and practical information to help schools maintain a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment.
“This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in the news release.
The Kansas Legislature didn’t vote this year on a bill that would have required transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their genetic sex as listed on their birth certificate.