Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods told school chiefs across the state to ignore new federal guidelines about protecting transgender students and offered to help any school district that wants to fight them.

The directive from Woods blasted the guidelines as a federal overreach that threatens the safety of students in Georgia’s 181 school districts.

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

The statement from Woods came Friday, just a week after the new federal guidelines were issued and three days after Gov. Nathan Deal asked Woods to provide guidance to school systems across Georgia. Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens also criticized the guidelines, but stopped short of dishing transphobic rhetoric in their response – unlike Woods and some Republican lawmakers, who called on the state to sue to block the guidelines. 

Woods said that schools should provide a safe environment and respond to the needs of individual students. Then he ignored the safety and needs of transgender students, while again misstating that following the federal guidelines means mixing genders in school bathrooms. 

"There are fundamental elements in all public schools, including a safe school environment and an appropriate response to the needs of individual students. Those two elements are essential and compatible and are the responsibility of local school systems.

"My first priority is to ensure our schools are a safe environment for students. I believe there are safety and privacy concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom and locker rooms. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex."

On May 13, the Obama administration issued a sweeping directive to public school districts across the country mandating that they allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The measure is not law but school districts that don't follow it could face lawsuits or the loss of federal funds. The guidelines also call for schools to provide access to all programs to transgender students, refer to them by their chosen names and pronouns, put in place safeguards to keep their gender identity private and respond to reports of harassment.

The guidelines received a mixed reaction in school districts across the state. In Fannin County, hundreds of parents invoked their religious beliefs to denounce the guidelines and LGBT students as “pedophiles” and “perverts.” In Gwinnett – the state’s largest school system – a protest over the guidelines fizzled as school officials criticized the guidelines but said they would offer trans students gender-neutral restrooms. In Atlanta, schools chief Meria Carstarphen said she welcomed the new federal guidance.

Woods blistered the federal guidelines at least three times as he said he would “carefully consider” what to do with them.

The full letter from Woods to school superintendents in Georgia:

Dear Superintendents:
 
On Friday, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued a joint “Dear Colleague Letter” regarding the rights of transgender students in the K-12 education setting. 
 
We at the Georgia Department of Education believe the "Dear Colleague Letter" openly violates, misinterprets and moves to rewrite established U.S. law. This overreach of power by the Executive Branch of the federal government is compounded by the threat to withhold federal funds should the context of the letter not be followed. 
 
As this guidance does not have the force of law, you are not required to comply with this directive or make changes to your established actions and policies. However, if the federal government does decide to withhold federal funds, enforce this directive, or bring suit against any district in Georgia because of a decision a local district makes, we will work with all parties to take appropriate action.
 
The doctrine of "local control" is deeply rooted in our constitution and laws here in Georgia, and I am confident that you, as the superintendent of your district, along with your board of education and with counsel and support from your local board attorney, will continue to appropriately address concerns surrounding this complex and sensitive matter.
 
There are fundamental elements in all public schools, including a safe school environment and an appropriate response to the needs of individual students. Those two elements are essential and compatible and are the responsibility of local school systems.
 
My first priority is to ensure our schools are a safe environment for students. I believe there are safety and privacy concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom and locker rooms. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex.
 
In closing, I wish to thank you and the staff in your districts and schools for your excellent work and commitment to your children. Our priority in Georgia is to provide all children with the opportunity to receive a great education, and we should not allow federal politics to distract us from that priority. 
 
Respectfully,
 
Richard Woods
State School Superintendent