News (USA)

Kansas education board votes to ignore transgender directive

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to ignore a directive from President Obama’s administration that public schools allow transgender students to use restrooms matching their gender identity, and instead the board left decisions up to school districts.

What remains unclear is whether the 10-0 vote will endanger over $479 million in federal aid, or about 10 percent of the state’s education budget.

Scott Gordon, general counsel for the state’s education department, said that the threat of loss of federal funding is not sweeping. The entire state would not lose federal education funding if one school is found out of compliance with the anti-discrimination law. Gordon told The Associated Press that he didn’t think the board’s statement would jeopardize federal aid.

He noted that only one transgender student had filed a complaint for alleged discrimination with the Office of Civil Rights in 2015, which board members cited as proof that districts already have adequate regulations in place.

“We must continue to provide our schools the flexibility needed to work with their students, families and communities to effectively address the needs of the students they serve,” the state board said in their statement.

Tuesday’s board meeting follows one last month in which members denounced the federal decree but voted against issuing a public statement rebuking it. Members said at the time that they needed more time to discuss the matter with attorneys and to review school districts’ policies.

The board has general supervision of schools and can set academic standards and requirements to remain accredited. It has the power to enforce a statewide policy.

State GOP leaders have called the decree an encroachment on local control, and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced earlier this month that the state will sue the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, which issued the decree. The Republican-led Senate also issued a nonbinding resolution condemning the federal mandate.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp sent letters to school leaders in Western and Central Kansas on Friday urging them to ignore the guidelines, despite the threat of losing federal funding.

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