State, feds differ on rules for transgender students in schools

North Carolina’s public schools find themselves in the middle of a fight between state lawmakers and the Obama administration over how to meet the needs of transgender students.

State legislation that went into law Wednesday bans public schools from allowing students to use communal bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates. But the Obama Administration has said that Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, requires schools to accommodate restroom and locker-room requests from transgender students.

Amid the competing demands, state and local education officials said Thursday they’re trying to determine what to do next.

“We’re in the process of reviewing the legislation to determine what might need to be changed,” said Lisa Luten, a spokeswoman for the Wake County school system, the largest in the state.

In the meantime, Luten said schools have not been told to change any decisions previously made that allow transgender students to use restrooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates.

Wake also allows some transgender students to use staff restrooms. That provision is allowed for under the new state law.

Some school systems took steps before the law was passed Wednesday.

Administrators in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system decided in December to convert a staff restroom in each middle school and high school to a single-stall, gender-neutral restroom for students, according to Jeff Nash, a district spokesman.

In the Durham Public Schools, principals were previously told to find another solution if transgender students asked for use of a restroom that didn’t match their biological sex, according to Chrissy Deal, a district spokeswoman.

It wasn’t as clear Thursday what some other districts might do. Spokeswoman Renee McCoy said the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system is reviewing the bill and would have no further comment Thursday.

Supporters of the bill said that it would protect students from being in restrooms and changing facilities with people who are of a different sex. But critics warned Thursday that the law could endanger transgender students.

“Transgender students now face the personal violence of being forced to use the wrong bathroom, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are on notice that their elected officials have no interest in defending them against the discrimination they face daily,” Eliza Byard, executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), said in a statement Thursday.

During Wednesday’s debate, Democratic lawmakers and other critics of the bill said that passage of the law would endanger $4 billion in federal Title IX education funding for violating nondiscrimination requirements. Republican lawmakers downplayed the concern.

Federal officials said Thursday they’re monitoring what’s happening in North Carolina.

“The Department is committed to protecting the rights of transgender students under Title IX, and will continue to work diligently to ensure that all students receive equal access to educational opportunities in accordance with federal law,” Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said in a statement Thursday.

Charlotte Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms contributed

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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