A lengthy guidance was blasted out to schools Friday morning. In the letter, schools were reminded they must protect "supportive, safe, and nondiscriminatory communities."
READ THE LETTER FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS (.PDF)
"I appreciate the fact that the president and his administration took this bold step," said NC Sen. Mike Woodard, a Democrat who represents Caswell, Durham and Person counties.
Institutions and districts are trying to figure what to do with the direction.
The UNC System, which is being sued right now over House Bill 2 and is receiving roughly $1.4 billion a year in federal education funding, is evaluating the directive.
Obama issues directive to districts nationwide to let transgender students use bathroom that matches gender identity pic.twitter.com/wW7xLQgrt2— Elaina Athans (@AthansABC11) May 13, 2016
Attorneys for the Wake County Public School System are reviewing the letter.
"The Wake County Public School System strives to provide a respectful, safe, and supportive environment for all students," said spokesperson Heather Lawing. "We continue to handle requests from students on a case-by-case basis."
"It's heartbreaking that these kids are losing their lives because they can't be accepted," Hope Tyler, who has a transgender son at a Raleigh high school, told The Associated Press in reference to suicides among transgender people. "Somebody has to speak for the kids."
READ THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION'S REPORT (.PDF)
The Durham Public Schools District makes accommodations for transgender students, but says it is not going to follow the federal directive.
"Right now, we are not breaking state law, even if some of us disagree with it," said Durham County School District spokesperson Chrissy Deal.
The letter does not impose any new legal requirements, but federal officials say the guidance is meant to clarify school districts' obligations to provide students with nondiscriminatory environments. The letter does remind schools that federal funds could be withheld.
Conservatives are outraged over the federal direction.
Gov. Pat McCrory issued this statement:
"President Obama's administration has instituted federally mandated edicts that affect employees as well as every parent and child within a public school system. This national bathroom, locker room and shower policy for almost every business, university and now K-12 school in our country changes generations of gender etiquette and privacy norms which parents, children and employees have expected in the most personal and private settings of their everyday lives.
"Most Americans, including this governor, believe that government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined.
"Now, both the federal courts and the U.S. Congress must intercede to stop this massive executive branch overreach, which clearly oversteps constitutional authority.
"Both non-discrimination and privacy are basic tenets of our great country. States and local governments cannot have a myriad of different laws which cause confusion and inconsistent application.
"However, the executive branch of the federal government does not have the authority to be the final arbiter. We all must work together to seek answers and common sense clarification."
The guidance comes days after McCrory and the Justice Department filed dueling lawsuits challenging HB2.
"As long as the Governor continues to double-down on this unnecessary policy, we're going to continue to have this fight that's going to cause a lot of pain to individual citizens," said Woodard.
Conservative political leaders in other states, though, echoed McCrory's sentiments.
"This is the most outrageous example yet of the Obama administration forcing its liberal agenda on states that roundly reject it," said Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
Texas' lieutenant governor said the state is prepared to forfeit billions rather than let the Obama administration dictate restroom policy for its 5.2 million students.
"We will not be blackmailed by the president's 30 pieces of silver," Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.
Rodney Cavness, superintendent of the Port Neches-Groves school district in Texas, told a TV station: "When I get that letter, I'll throw it away."
Similarly, GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said schools should disregard the directive, which he derided as "social engineering."
"The last time I checked, the United States is not ruled by a king who can bypass Congress and the courts and force school-age boys and girls to share the same bathrooms and locker rooms," North Carolina's Senate leader Phil Berger said.
And Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said: "It is difficult to imagine a more absurd federal overreach into a local issue."
However, Democratic Govs. Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Jay Inslee of Washington praised the Obama directive, saying it was consistent with their own policies.
"I applaud the Obama administration for establishing policies that will better provide all our children an opportunity to thrive," Inslee said.
Tyler, whose 15-year-old transgender son attends the Raleigh high school, said she cried when she heard about the Obama administration directive.
"It means a lot to our kid. People don't realize that these kids in schools weren't having any bathroom issues before," she said.
Since the passage of North Carolina's bathroom law, Tyler's son has been doing his schoolwork under a special arrangement that allows him to take classes mostly from home.
Read all ABC11 stories about HB2 here
Before the new law, Hunter Schafer, 17, had no problems being accepted by her peers at the North Carolina School of the Arts, a residential high school in Winston-Salem where she has lived in the girls' dormitory.
With the passage of the law, Schafer said she found herself "just having to decide do I break the law, or do I put myself in this highly uncomfortable or highly dangerous situation in the men's restroom?"
Eventually, the school gave her her own private restroom.
Her father, Mac Schafer of Raleigh, was elated to hear the new guidance from the Obama administration.
"As a parent, some of your core instincts are protection for your child," he said. "To know that the federal government is pushing for respect and safe space and rights for Hunter is thrilling."
The NC Values Coalition, which has been a vocal supporter of HB2, issued this statement Friday:
"Americans deserve to be governed by those who uphold and follow the law. Instead the Obama administration continues to illegally distort the law and ignore legal precedent to benefit powerful Washington lobbying groups at the expense of the children across America. Using Americans' tax dollars, the Obama administration threatened North Carolina last week for seeking to protect children's privacy and safety. Now they've threatened every school in the country that doesn't follow the Obama Administration's agenda and unlawful interpretation of Title IX that would force states to adopt policies allowing boys into bathrooms and locker rooms designated for girls, violating their right to privacy, shredding their dignity, and robbing them of their innocence. Over the past four decades, courts have consistently rejected attempts to equate sex discrimination with gender identity discrimination under Title IX. For this reason, school's should continue to follow HB 2, as it is in full compliance with federal law. It's just common sense, and it's also the law-biological men don't belong in bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas designated for women and girls."
Meanwhile, musicians continue to weigh in on the debate.
World-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman was contemplating canceling his May 18 concert in opposition of HB2. The 15-time Grammy Award winning artist will play in Raleigh next week and is donating to his fee to LGBT non-profit Equality NC.
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