Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens blasted new federal guidelines concerning transgender students, but stopped short of challenging it in court as a growing chorus of Georgia Republicans has demanded.
Deal (photo) and Olens issued statements on Tuesday condemning the guidelines as an overreach. Their statements came as nearly two-dozen Republican state senators demanded that they file a lawsuit to stop the guidelines, while other lawmakers have promised to draft legislation to address the issue.
Instead, Deal asked State School Superintendent Richard Woods to provide guidance to Georgia's 181 school districts. In his statement, Deal said the guidelines have created "confusion and controversy among parents, students and school officials."
Deal's full statement:
"The Obama administration’s directive, recently announced by press release, to local school systems regarding accommodations for transgender students has generated confusion and controversy among parents, students and school officials. While I do not believe this directive carries the force of law, the Departments of Justice and Education have threatened to revoke federal funding from schools that fail to comply. Georgia’s constitution and state laws, however, require these decisions be made at the local level. While our 181 school systems must each determine an appropriate response to this federal overreach, I have asked State School Superintendent Richard Woods to provide guidance to those local school systems seeking assistance and clarity on this issue in order to ensure that there will be as much uniformity across our state as possible. Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority."
Olens said the federal guidelines address "a sensitive and complex issue with a sledgehammer." His full statement, via the AJC:
“I am confident that Georgia’s parents, teachers, and local communities will take every measure necessary to ensure that no child is harassed or intimidated at school for any reason—that is our responsibility as parents and leaders. But the “Guidance” Letter recently issued by the Obama Administration addresses a sensitive and complex issue with a sledgehammer. In yet another example of executive overreach, the Administration is attempting to use executive fiat to push schools toward whatever policy outcomes it desires without any legal or constitutional support, in this case relating to dorm rooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms.”
“Parents, teachers, and local communities have the right to determine the best way to address these issues without the heavy hand of the federal government threatening to take away billions of dollars of funding that schools rely on to educate our children. As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, I will take steps, when appropriate under the law, to ensure that these decisions are being made at the appropriate level, as demanded by principles of separation of powers and federalism under our Constitution.”
The federal guidelines, issued Friday, mandate that public schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. 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 don't have the force of law, but school districts that don't follow them could lose federal funds.
It's unclear what sort of guidance Woods and state officials will provide to local school districts. Woods' condemned the federal guidelines as posing "safety concerns." Via the Gwinnett Daily Post:
“With that said, my first priority is to ensure our schools are a safe environment for students,” Woods said in a statement. “I believe there are safety concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom alongside students of the opposite sex. We will communicate with districts when we’ve had time to fully evaluate the issue.”
The issue of transgender students using the restroom matching their gender identity has boiled over in recent days. In Fannin County, religious conservatives denounced the idea while calling LGBT people "perverts" and "pedophiles" that threaten the safety of students. Conservative elected officials have pounced, and Atlanta schools chief Meria Carstarphen has said she welcomed the new federal guidance.