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Forysth County Schools holds stance on transgender bathroom directive

FORSYTH COUNTY — Officials with the Forsyth County school system have not changed their stance on a recent directive from the Obama administration about transgender students in light of guidance released by the state school superintendent.

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said the district still intends to wait for legal ruling to be conferred to make any changes regarding the president’s directive, which said earlier this month that 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.

Senators wrote a letter to Republican Governor Nathan Deal 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.

Deal asked State School Superintendent Richard Woods to “provide guidance” to school districts.

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

Proponents of the letter have said keeping transgender kids safe makes schools safer.

Conservative state leaders opposing the directive have signed on to a brief asking a federal appeals court to rehear a case over a Virginia transgender student’s access to the boy’s bathroom.

Though the directive does not serve as a rule of law, it does say schools and schools 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 funding and grants.

“We received Superintendent Woods’ statement, and as we shared prior, we will continue to monitor the situation and seek the advice of legal counsel and state officials,” Bearden said.

Bearden noted last week 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.

Woods said in an email sent to all school district superintendents Friday, May 20 —his second statement regarding the directive — that the state Department of Education believes the president’s letter “openly violates, misinterprets and moves to rewrite established U.S. law.”

“As this guidance does not have the force of law, you are not required to comply with the directive or make changes to your established actions and policies,” Woods said in the email. “However, if the federal government does decide to withhold federal funds, enforce this directive or bring suit again any district in Georgia because of a decision a local district makes, we will work with all parties to take appropriate action.”

He said the state’s priority is to ensure schools “are a safe environment for students” and that he believes “there are safety concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom and locker rooms.”