Ohio schools study federal transgender bathroom directive

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Obama administration has given Ohio school leaders some summer homework with a new federal directive on transgender students and bathroom use in public schools.

Several school officials say they will study the directive and seek legal advice, even if they are already in general compliance with the Education and Justice departments’ guidance that transgender students can use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities.

Scott Inskeep, superintendent of Kettering City Schools in suburban Dayton, said the district has been allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen identity, handling requests on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve been able to work with those who have clearly made us aware of concerns,” Inskeep said.

There’s been no significant controversy but the increased attention to the issue could generate some, he added. He said the new directive “creates a lot less choice for us,” and could result in a wider-ranging policy.

Ohio Department of Education officials say they are reviewing the federal guidance.

“All students deserve a safe and positive learning environment,” spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said.

The guidance, issued Friday, is not legally binding because the question of whether federal civil rights law protects transgender people has not been definitively answered by the courts and may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. But schools that refuse to comply could be hit with civil rights lawsuits from the government and could face a cutoff of federal aid to education.

The Ohio School Boards Association has gotten more inquiries about the issue in the past year, the association says.

The superintendent of another Ohio school district that had some controversy when the school year began with a new policy on transgender students and bathrooms said Friday he hadn’t had time yet to look at the new directive.

“We dealt with the issue in the fall and we’ve been following the policy,” said Troy City Schools Superintendent Eric Herman. “I think we worked through it with the community and it’s been uneventful.”

Some parents voiced displeasure last year with the decision to grant access to a males’ bathroom for a transgender student who had previously attended school as a female. The district explained to parents its belief that denying the student’s request would violate the federal Title IX law on discrimination based on sex. The district said students feeling uncomfortable with same-sex bathrooms or seeking more privacy could also use private bathroom alternatives, regardless of the underlying reason.

Columbus City Schools spokeswoman Jacqueline Bryant said the district has been “progressive” in response to the issue, adding that several years ago “gender identity or expression” to its nondiscrimination policy. She said the district will review the federal guidance.

Superintendent Karen Mantia of Lakota Local Schools said the large suburban district north of Cincinnati also will scrutinize the guidance.

“With regard to transgender students, we will continue working closely with our legal counsel to understand how the new guidance … impacts our day-to-day work,” she said in an email. “Our staff will continue to collaborate with families and students on an individual basis in accordance with the law and with respect to student privacy.”


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