The support expressed Friday by Mississippi’s top educators, embracing the new directive from the Obama administration regarding transgender students, has evaporated faster than the ice in a glass of Mississippi Punch.
State Superintendent Carey Wright, in a brief statement to the Associated Press, declared Wednesday that Mississippi’s department of education would “follow the lead of state leadership” and take no action until the state Board of Education discusses the situation. A meeting is set within two weeks.
So much for the need for a “safe and caring school environment,” as officials had said on Friday.
Since then, education officials have come under fire by both Gov. Phil Bryant and other state Republicans for announcing they would follow the new federal guidance on use of bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender students.
The directive sent by the federal departments of Justice and Education to public schools nationwide, called on administrators to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker room and to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity.
This comes against a backdrop of resistance across the South, all of it orchestrated by Republican state leaders.
Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas blasted the Obama administration’s directive as “an unprecedented example of executive over-reach.” Brownback, in a statement reported by the Lawrence Journal, said local schools, communities and parents are the ones who should make any decisions on how to handle their students’ issues of gender identity.
Republican lawmakers in Arkansas are going one better by taking legislative action. The Arkansas Legislative Council on Wednesday approved a nonbinding resolution in support of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has publicly urged his state public school administrators to disregard the guidance from Washington, D.C. The council serves in the absence of an actual session by state lawmakers and approved the resolution on a voice vote.
“Our constituents are angry at this attempt by the federal government to push this social experimentation on our children,” said Republican Rep. Stephen Meeks, who introduced the resolution, to Arkansas Business.
The backtracking by Mississippi officials follows campaigns by dozens of Republican state lawmakers who wrote to Dr. Carey Wright, the superintendent, advising her to change her position or resign, according to the AP. One letter perpetuated the myth spread in North Carolina and in Houston, Texas, that transgender people pose a risk as sexual predators, and denying expert scientific conclusions that transgender girls and women are female.
“The policy of allowing boys or men into bathrooms and locker rooms with girls poses a threat to the safety and well-being of every school-aged girl in this state,” the group of 11 Mississippi House members wrote.
“Obviously she has been pressured by politicians, Mississippi lawmakers who are playing politics with the lives of Mississippi transgender students,” said Rob Hill, state director of the Human Rights Campaign. He told the AP his plan is to meet with members of the state board of education and other political leaders in hopes of allaying their fears.