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JCPS Reviewing New Obama Guidance On Transgender Rights

New guidance from the Obama administration directs public schools across the country to allow transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room that matches their gender identity.

The guidance expands federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in public schools to include gender identity. Schools that violate that may contravene federal civil rights laws and risk losing federal funding, according to the Departments of Justice and Education.

In Louisville, public school administrators say they need more time to digest the changes. Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said the district is reviewing the new information and will work with the board of education to “determine how we move forward as a district.”

JCPS does not have an overarching policy covering transgender students and bathroom use – those decisions may be considered by site-based councils at individual schools. That happened in 2014, when Atherton High School approved a policy allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

That policy survived appeal, and an effort to enact a statewide law requiring individuals to use bathrooms that correspond with their sex at birth failed in the General Assembly.

JCPS does have an anti-harassment policy that includes gender identity, Brislin said.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, said he's pleased with the changes. His organization lobbied to protect Atherton’s policy and against the 2015 statewide effort.

“We’re excited and delighted at the Obama administration’s clear decree that transgender students have the right to be protected and to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, which is what keeps them safe in schools," he said.

The changes drew sharp criticism from Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who suggested in a statement that school districts that disagree with the new guidance should ignore it.

“He is intentionally dividing America by threatening to sue or withhold funding from our cash-strapped public schools if they do not agree with his personal opinion on policies that remain squarely in their jurisdiction," Bevin said. "They should not feel compelled to bow to such intimidation. My administration is researching the options available for ensuring that this local issue is decided by Kentuckians, not by bureaucrats in Washington.”

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.

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