Schuette to feds: Retract transgender student directive

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is asking the Obama administration to retract its recent directive that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, calling it “another prime example of federal overreach.“

Schuette, in a letter Thursday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Education John King, urged the administration to reconsider the policy guidance and seek input from parents and guardians from every state.

“The decision about how best to deal with the rights of students is a critically important issue,” the Midland Republican wrote. “But the manner in which this decision was made — ignoring the essential role of parents, local school teachers and administrators, and done without the debate and consent of the legislative branch — is a failing that needs to be corrected.”

Schuette has not joined officials in 11 other states who are suing the federal government over the transgender policy guidance, but spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said the attorney general is “reviewing all options.”

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education on May 13 released a joint memo officials said was intended to provide educators with information to help ensure transgender students do not face sex-based discrimination in schools.

The administration said transgender students should be able to access restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity unless those students request an individual-user option for privacy. Schools workers should also use pronouns and names consistent with the student’s gender identity, according to the “Dear Colleague” letter.

Those policy recommendations and others are technically voluntary, but schools risk federal funding if they discriminate against a student based on sex, and the administration made clear that the federal agencies treat gender identity as the student’s sex.

“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,” Lynch said at the time.

The federal guidance, like a draft policy recommendation by the Michigan Board of Education, have prompted significant backlash from conservatives.

But Equality Michigan executive director Steph White said the Obama administration's guidance is consistent with anti-discrimination laws and interpretations that have been upheld by courts.

“This is not new,” she said. “This is the appropriate role (of federal officials). Basic civil rights for LGBT people, just like everyone else, is not really up for public debate or a public vote.”

Schuette’s letter to the Obama administration came the same day three state legislators called on him to join the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by officials in 11 other states.

“This is a critical issue facing Michigan children,” said Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, in a statement. “We need Attorney General Schuette to protect those he was elected to defend. We need him to provide guidance as to the legality of transgender bathrooms in Michigan.”

Reps. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, and Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville, also signed on to the letter to Schuette, according to a release.

Despite the outcry, White said she believes only a small segment of Michigan’s population has decided to make an issue over the transgender school guidance.

“I think you see most reasonable people who want to build a state that is focused on the future, that is open for business and attractive to top talent … most of those people know this kind of attacking of trans kids is not the way to set the right tone for Michigan, and it’s really not in keeping with Michigan values.”

Schuette, in his letter to the Obama administration, said “there is no place for discrimination against any person or student” and noted his OK 2 Say student tip hotline that is intended to reduce school violence.

He copied Michigan Superintendent Brian Whiston on the letter, expressing hope that Whiston and school board members can work with local school leaders to craft “a policy that ensures the rights of all students are protected.”

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