Local schools speak up about HB1523, transgender issue

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Two school districts have taken stances on both a controversial religious objections law and federal guidance advising schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.

Mickey Meyers

The Daily Leader reported on Thursday that Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers said the school district would not comply with the federal directive because he wants to “keep a safe environment and protect all our students, and this is a distraction to what our school system is about.”

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

Myers was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Myers’ comments about the guidelines come after the state superintendent of education reversed her position on the issue. Carey Wright initially said her department would follow the directive, but four days later changed her position, stating she instead wants the department 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.” Wright reneged amid mounting pressure from state lawmakers.

The federal directive is not law or binding in any way, which Myers pointed out as a reason not to follow it.

In April, the Jackson Public School District modified its hiring policy in response to House Bill 1523, or the state’s new religious objections law. The board voted to add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the list of categories the district can’t discriminate against in its hiring process.

“It says a lot about where we’re heading as a district in terms of protecting against discrimination including, of course, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” board member Jed Oppenheim said after the unanimous vote.

The religious objections law would allow circuit clerks to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” as reason for denying a marriage license to same-sex couples, though the law does say the clerk should ensure there is no delay in the issuance of the license. The law also would allow schools to make policies about gender-specific clothing and bathrooms without being subject to any legal liability.

Most school districts, however, are not speaking up about either the federal directive about transgender students or House Bill 1523. Mississippi School Boards Association attorney Jim Keith said he was not aware of any other school districts that had modified its policies.

“We’re waiting to see how it pans out in the courts and Congress,” Keith said. “All school districts are committed to not discriminating against anyone.”