The Mississippi Board of Education will fall in line with the wishes of the state’s elected leadership on policies for transgender students.

The unanimous decision came after a two-and-a-half hour closed-door executive session at the board’s offices in Clinton.

The U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a set of guidelines earlier in the month that federal law requires them to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity.”

Gov. Phil Bryant and other legislative leaders balked at the guidelines, calling on state education chief Carey Wright to resist the federal government. Initially, Wright said she would abide by federal rules, but quickly changed course and said the board of education should make the decision.

John Kelly, chairman of the board, told reporters that Tuesday’s decision was not the result of political pressure.

“This is an independent board by virtue of state statute. We did what we thought was the right thing to do for school children,” Kelly said.

The board went into executive session after a briefing about Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational facilities or programs. The more than two-hour-long break saw some intense moments as some parents who oppose public accommodations for transgender people yelled at reporters.

One man, who declined to give his name, complained that the transgender bathroom issue was being pushed by those favoring a “politically correct” agenda.

Rita Anderson, another woman who attended the hearing, said she believes policies that allow transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity could open the door to those students being bullied.

However, if all students are taught the biblical principle of love thy neighbor, bullying of transgender students would be minimal, she added.

“If kids are brought up in their homes and families with the right values then they’re not going to be involved in that [bullying],” Anderson said.

Kelly, the board of education chairman, said each school district should develop its own guidelines for transgender students.

Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.