School officials voice concern on directive


Local school officials are voicing their concerns and dismay after federal guidelines were issued Friday to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice at public institutions.

Noncompliance could mean schools would lose federal funding, if the directive from the U.S. Justice and Education departments becomes law.

Supporters of the move say it’s a victory for civil rights in protecting people from discrimination who identify themselves with the opposite gender.

Superintendent Rob Hooker of Seymour Community School Corp. said the guidelines have no local impact at this point in time, because there is no precedent for such an action.

“There is no case law that gives the federal government the power to force Indiana schools to provide transgender bathrooms,” he said. “President (Barack) Obama has no legal power to force his demands on our school children.”

The federal directive came just days after the Justice Department and the state of North Carolina sued each other over a state law requiring transgender people use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex they were born.

That legal battle is under the jurisdiction of a different circuit court of appeals than Indiana.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence said education issues should be handled at the state and local levels, not by federal law makers.

“Policies regarding the security and privacy of students in our schools should be in the hands of Hoosier parents and local schools, not bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The federal government has no business getting involved in issues of this nature.

“I am confident that parents, teachers and administrators will continue to resolve these matters without federal mandates and in a manner that reflects the common sense and compassion of our state,” he added.

If the courts decide that transgender is a recognized group that deserves equal rights and protections, then it could change a lot for schools, including athletics.

“Title IX rules do not mention transgender in its wording,” Hooker said. “If a court determines that it is implied, then it may be the beginning of the end of the separate, but equal treatment of male and female sports at the high school and college levels.”

Hooker said there are more important issues for teachers and schools to be handling today than the gender identity of students.

“We would rather focus on promoting student learning and achievement,” he said. “Seymour Community Schools continue to accommodate all of our students and staffs needs while providing a safe and secure learning environment.”

Brownstown Central Community School Corp. Superintendent Greg Walker said all students should be treated fairly and feel safe at school, regardless of their gender, and the school board will have to review its policies in light of the changes being made at a national level.

“We will work with our attorney to develop policies and procedures to ensure that we are in compliance with these new guidelines,” he said.

Medora Superintendent Roger Bane had similar sentiments and said he would have to research the issue more and take it to the school board for discussion.

Some schools in the state have already taken actions in adding language to policies to protect transgender students and staff.

New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. recently added “sexual stereotype non-conformity,” to its student rights and responsibilities handbook, spelling out protections for transgender students for the first time.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Board also is considering changing school policy to include transgender status and gender identity as protected classes. The policy means that school officials are not allowed to question the gender that students choose to identify with when they enroll.

But for local school districts, it’s a wait and see approach.

“Congress has not acted nor have the courts made any final rulings on these matters,” Hooker said.

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