Politics & Government

Kansas school board rebukes transgender bathroom directive

Members of the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday criticized the Obama administration’s decree that public schools allow transgender students to use the restrooms that match their gender identity, not their birth sex.

During a meeting, board members called the directive an encroachment on local control but voted 6-4 against issuing a public statement rejecting the federal mandate. Members agreed to discuss the issue again next month after consulting with an attorney and reviewing school districts’ policies.

The state’s high school athletic association recommends that schools create their own guidelines but says that gender-appropriate restrooms and locker rooms should be available to transgender students.

State school board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, asked that the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback protect the state from what he called federal overreach and “usurpation of local control.” The board needs to take a stance on the issue, he said.

“It could be the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back and result in the destruction of the traditional American public schools,” Willard said about the repercussions of the state accepting the directive.

The U.S. departments of Justice and Education’s threat to remove federal funding for any schools that failed to comply with the mandate was bullying, said board member Jim Porter, a Fredonia Republican.

Members agreed that schools should continue dealing with the matter on their own, but some feared that lawmakers would interpret the statement as support for legislative measures that would have allowed schools to limit accommodations for transgender students.

Willard said the federal mandate would encourage many parents to withdraw their children from public schools.

The meeting came after a prominent Southern Baptist minister in Wichita reacted to the Obama administration’s guidance Friday with a Facebook posting encouraging people to move their children to private or home schools if it is not overturned.

The Rev. Terry Fox, pastor of the nondenominational-leaning Summit Church, said he’s most concerned about students’ safety and believes the directive allows transgender staff members to be in restrooms and locker rooms with students so that, for example, a coach who was born male could be present when female students shower after gym classes or sporting events.

“This is not so much a morality issue as a commonsense issue,” Fox said. “It’s not only divisive; it’s dangerous.”

However, some Kansas districts have already said that they plan on complying with the directive. Misty Kruger, director of communications at Topeka Public Schools, said the district created a bathroom policy in August 2015 that closely mirrors the federal mandate.

“We feel confident in being able to allow students to use the restroom that they identify with,” Kruger said, “and we have a policy that allows them to do so.”

Kruger said the district also provides access to single-stall restrooms for students who desire increased privacy, although they are not required to use them. Staff members who do not comply with the policy will receive disciplinary action, she added.

“Any barrier that we can remove from a student having an issue in regards to getting an education, we want to remove that for them,” Kruger said.