The U.S. Department of Education is acting like a “national school board” in attempting to tell public schools how they should address transgender students, according to 25 Republican senators, including Senate education committee boss Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
The senators sent a letter Thursday to Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and Attorney General Loretta Lynch stating that while “every transgender person is someone’s child and should be treated with respect,” President Barack Obama’s administration has gone too far in attempting to help schools address the issue.
Last Friday, the Education Department along with the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter telling schools that they must allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity. The letter also said that schools denying transgender students those rights would run the risk of losing federal funds. The move drew both strong praise and harsh criticism. Many schools already accomodate transgender students.
The Republican senators weighed in with some of the latter. They argued in their letter that it’s the job of Congress to decide the laws governing transgender rights, and that if those equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution are being violated in schools, it’s up to the courts to make such a finding.
“It is not appropriate for a federal executive agency to issue ‘guidance’ for every school as if it were the law,” the senators wrote. (“National school board,” you might recall, is a favorite phrase of Alexander’s to describe the Education Department under the Obama administration.)
Other GOP senators who serve with Alexander on the Senate education committee and who signed the letter include Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina; Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming; Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah; Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia; Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas; and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting that on May 2, before the Obama transgender guidance was released, 40 Democratic senators wrote to the administration urging it to better protect transgender students:
“Transgender and gender non-conforming students continue to face a disproportionate amount of discrimination compared to their peers. And so, amid attempts by legislatures in states like North Carolina to limit the rights of LGBT people and transgender students, the Senators are calling on Department of Education to release more comprehensive guidance on the full scope of protections Title IX affords transgender and gender non-conforming students.”
Read the full letter from the GOP senators.