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Kansas Education Board To Weigh Transgender Bathroom Policy

The Kansas State Board of Education plans to discuss and take possible action on the Obama administration's directive that public schools allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity.

Tuesday's board meeting follows one last month in which members largely denounced the federal decree but voted against issuing a public statement rebuking it. Members said at the time that they needed more time to discuss the matter with attorneys and to review school districts' policies.

The board has general supervision of schools and can set academic standards and requirements to remain accredited. It has the power to enforce a statewide policy.

State GOP leaders have called the decree an encroachment on local control, and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced earlier this month that the state will sue the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, which issued the decree. The Republican-led Senate also issued a nonbinding resolution condemning the federal mandate.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp sent letters to school leaders in Western and Central Kansas on Friday urging them to ignore the guidelines, despite the threat of losing federal funding.

"Neither our girls or boys should be forced to undress in the presence of individuals who are of the opposite biological sex," Huelskamp said in the letter. "Our children should also not be subjected to a greater risk of threats from predators who seek to do them harm."

Yet some districts have said that their current practice mirrors the federal directive. Lawrence Public Schools allows students to use the facilities that match their gender identity, said Lawrence school board President Vanessa Sanburn, but gender neutral bathrooms are also available for students who want increased privacy.

"I hope that if the state board is critical of the directive that came from the Obama administration that they at least allow for local flexibility for districts like ours that are working within those parameters to continue being able to do that," Sanburn said. "Because certainly we have students who have needs, and we want to be able to meet those needs."

Transgender activist Stephanie Mott said that students whose gender is "invalidated" are at an increased risk of harassment and suicide attempts.

"I think it's necessary for us to make sure that all children have a safe place to go to school, including LGBT kids and transgender kids," Mott said. "When there are states and schools that are refusing to do that, then I think it's appropriate for us to do what we need to do to protect our kids."

Texas is leading an 11-state lawsuit that accuses the federal government of turning schools into "laboratories for a massive social experiment" with the directive. At the time Schmidt announced Kansas would challenge the law, he said he had not yet decided whether to join that lawsuit or sue separately.

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