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Forsyth school officials respond to Obamas transgender student bathroom order

CUMMING — In light of a recent directive about transgender students from the Obama administration, officials with the Forsyth County school system say they intend to follow whatever legal rulings are conferred and will wait for those to come down.

Georgia’s governor and other statewide leaders criticized the president’s directive issued last Friday, which said students at public schools must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the gender they identify with, as opposed to the gender on their birth certificate.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, in his first comments on the issue coming on Tuesday, did not pledge legal action, a step demanded by GOP state senators objecting to the guidance.

Senators wrote a letter to Deal this week calling for Georgia to join legal challenges over transgender students’ access to bathrooms at public schools and defend any school district sued individually over the issue.

The state’s Republican attorney general, Sam Olens, also did not mention legal actions in a written statement Tuesday.

Courts have issued mixed rulings on whether transgender people are protected by federal civil rights law.

Though the directive does not serve as a rule of law, it does say schools and school districts that refuse to comply could face federal lawsuits and lose federal funding.

Georgia’s budget for the financial year starting in July includes nearly $2 billion in federal education funding and grants.

Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden said the district has not changed any current policies or practices “as it specifically relates to the guidance in the letter we received last Friday from the U.S. Department of Education and Justice.”

“The district will continue to monitor this closely and will consider the guidance of its legal advisers, state and federal officials,” he said.

Bearden noted the school system “is and has been fully committed to the education, safety and privacy of each of the students attending our schools.

“Part of that commitment always has been addressing the unique needs of any individual student, including any student who may identify as transgender,” he said.

“This is best accomplished through a careful review of the individual student’s needs, any request for accommodation and the needs of the remaining students in the school. Safety for all students is always our No. 1 priority.”

Robbie Medwed, education director for the faith-based LGBT advocacy organization Southern Jewish Resource Network, called the opposition from Georgia lawmakers “really disappointing.”

“The directive letter outlines best practices from across the country,” Medwed said. “Far more important than what the governor says or what the president says are the actual facts of the situation — that transgender kids and all kids are safer when transgender kids are treated with respect.”

Conservative leaders in other states criticized the guidance.

Since it was issued, some urged school districts to disregard it while several states have signed on to a brief asking a federal appeals court to rehear a case over a Virginia transgender student’s access to the boys’ bathroom.

Deal instead asked State School Superintendent Richard Woods to “provide guidance” to school districts aimed at “uniformity” across the state. Each district “must determine an appropriate response to this federal overreach,” he said.

“Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority,” Deal said.

Woods, in a statement issued Thursday, said the Georgia Department of Education will “carefully consider policy before making recommendations or taking actions.”

“I believe there are safety concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom,” Woods said. “For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom alongside students of the opposite sex.”

He called the directive an overstepping of the Executive Branch’s constitutional authority and “very irresponsible.”

Attorney General Olens said local officials and parents can make the best decision for their community.

“As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I will take steps, when appropriate under law,” he said in his statement, “to ensure that these decisions are being made at the appropriate level.”