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Mississippi may ignore a federal directive to allow transgender students to use their preferred bathroom and risk losing federal funding.
The state’s Republican leadership has threatened the state education superintendent’s job if she complies with the Obama administration’s guidance on curbing sex-based discrimination in schools, specifically against students who do not identify with the gender commonly linked to their biological sex.
As of Tuesday, Superintendent Carey Wright had agreed to stall on taking any action.
A letter issued by the Departments of Justice and Education on Friday said schools must create a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, regardless of their gender identity to be in compliance with Title IX, and in order to continue receiving federal funds under it. Schools are not allowed to require medical diagnoses or documentations in order to treat students in a manner consistent with their gender identities. Schools must use transgender students’ preferred pronouns and names, and allow students access to the restrooms or locker rooms or any other sex segregated programs or facilities consistent with their gender identities.
“As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases,” the letter reads, “the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a single class of students.”
In a May 13 press release, the Mississippi Department of Education said it would adhere to Title IX.
“A safe and caring school environment is critical to a student’s ability to learn and achieve,” the press release states. “The Mississippi Department of Education will adhere to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the joint guidance issued today by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Today, however, MDE is stalling on the directive.
“Pending a discussion with the Mississippi State Board of Education, I am instructing the Mississippi Department of Education to follow the lead of state leadership and take no action at this time regarding the non-regulatory guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education,” Wright said in the press release.
This is a day after a letter from Mississippi House Republicans yesterday called for Wright to step down from her position if MDE honored the White House directive to protect transgender students, claiming that the “policy of allowing boys or men into bathrooms and locker rooms with girls poses a threat to the safety and well being of every school-aged girl in this state.”
Gov. Phil Bryant believes MDE should “disregard” what he calls “the Obama administration’s outrageous bathroom directive.”
“The Mississippi Department of Education should disregard the so-called guidance the Obama administration has issued regarding public schools’ restroom policies,” he said on Twitter on Friday. “The directive is nonbinding, and does not carry the force of law. Because these decisions are better left to the states, and not made at the point of a federal bayonet, Mississippi’s public schools should not participate in the president’s social experiment.”
Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and The Hechinger Report. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.