Mississippi’s top school official is standing down from adhering to new federal guidelines for access of transgender students to public school restrooms.
Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, issued a statement Wednesday morning saying: “Pending a discussion with the Mississippi State Board of Education, I am instructing the Mississippi Department of Education to follow the lead of state leadership and take no action at this time regarding the non-regulatory guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education.”
The statement marked a reversal from the Mississippi Department of Education stance taken on Friday, when officials said they would abide by rules from the U.S. Department of Education that federal law requires them to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity.”
“A safe and caring school environment is critical to a student’s ability to learn and achieve. The Mississippi Department of Education will adhere to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the joint guidance issued today by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice,” the statement reads.
Since Friday, Bryant and several Republican lawmakers have called on the state Education Departmnet to change course.
In a statement Friday after the regulatory advice was issued, Bryant said MDE “should disregard the so-called guidance the Obama administration has issued regarding public schools’ restroom policies. The directive is nonbinding, and does not carry the force of law. Because these decisions are better left to the states, and not made at the point of a federal bayonet, Mississippi’s public schools should not participate in the president’s social experiment.”
Several Mississippi House members said Wright should resign if she was not prepared to make a “a swift and public reversal” of MDE’s policy accepting the federal guidance.
This year, states including Mississippi and North Carolina, passed laws that permit individuals to cite religious faith in denying public accommodations to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In recent weeks, two challenges to that religious freedom law have been filed in federal court.
Dr. John Kelly, chairman of the 10-member state of board of education, told Mississippi Today that he had not spoken with legislative leaders or Bryant’s office, but spoke to Wright on Tuesday.
“I had a conversation with Dr. Wright yesterday and when we talked about it, she realized this was a policy decision she needed input from her board on,” Kelly said.
Kelly declined to comment on the direction the board might go with respect to transgender-student policies, saying the board would discuss the issue at its next meeting in the next week and a half.