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Jacques: Feds force transgender agenda on schools

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

The heated debate in Michigan over how schools should accommodate transgender students has made it clear this is a matter close to the hearts of families.

Nearly 13,000 concerned citizens have left comments on a draft policy crafted by the State Board of Education. And at a recent state board meeting, members heard more than six hours of testimony on the proposed guidance.

Parents are not pleased that the policy leaves them out of discussions regarding their child’s gender identity. And many are also worried about the challenges posed when a transgender student can choose at will what bathroom or locker room to use.

It’s a complicated discussion, and one worthy of hashing out at the state and district level.

That is not how the Obama administration sees it, though. Last Friday, the administration got involved, swooping in with an edict on how all U.S. public schools should treat transgender students.

If schools don’t go along with its extreme “guidance”? They risk losing their federal funding, of course.

In the “Dear Colleague” letter to schools, the joint message from the Education and Justice departments lays out exactly how transgender students should be obliged at school — including that they should use the bathroom and locker room of their choosing. No questions asked. And anything less, the administration states, is in violation of Title IX, the law banning sex discrimination in schools.

The Office for Civil Rights has determined that Title IX covers gender identity, even though it is far from settled in the courts.

That’s not stopping the administration from forcing its agenda on local districts. Since it has threatened schools with stripping funding, many of them will likely comply out of fear.

This is the latest interference from the Obama administration, which has sent a string of such letters to schools the past few years. It’s an effective tool for implementing its directives and wielding control over education. Other letters have dealt with racial discipline and cracking down on campus sexual assault.

And all guidance is tied to the assurance that the feds will come after schools that don’t comply.

Some states are already standing up to the government. In typical Texas fashion, that state is refusing to play along. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the guidance “blackmail” and said he’s willing to give up $10 billion in federal school money.

Michigan Superintendent Brian Whiston isn’t quite so outspoken against the federal interference, but he says his priority is doing what’s best for the state and addressing the concerns of parents here. And if it comes down to it, he says he’ll turn down the federal funding, which is roughly 8 percent of the state’s K-12 budget — slightly less than $1 billion.

“We want to be thoughtful and understand people’s concerns,” Whiston says. “I’m never going to be fearful or run and say we have to do something because the federal government tells us to do it. I’m going to do what I think is best for the children of Michigan.”

Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says states should stand up to the administration and take this to the courts.

“The administration doesn’t have the authority to do what it’s doing,” he says.

Yet schools fear the Justice Department and all its resources, von Spakovsky says. And legal fights won’t be easy, since the federal courts are now composed of a significant percentage of President Barack Obama’s appointees.

Michigan and other states should fight back against the arrogance of an administration that thinks it knows what’s best for all students.

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques