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Battle over Bathrooms Continues in Kansas; State BOE Ignores Federal Decree

Men, Women, Trans, Neutral? The battle over bathrooms continues in Kansas. (Photo by J. Schafer)

UPDATED: Kansas Board of Education Ignores President's Transgender Decree

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Members of the Kansas Board of Education have unanimously voted to ignore a federal directive that all public schools allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity, instead deferring to the regulations of school districts. What remains unclear is whether or not the 10-0 vote will endanger over $479 million in federal aid, or about 10 percent of the state's education budget. Scott Gordon, general counsel for the state's education department, said that the threat of loss of federal funding is not sweeping. The entire state would not lose federal education funding if one school is found out of compliance with the anti-discrimination law. Gordon noted that only one transgender student filed a complaint for alleged discrimination with the Office of Civil Rights in 2015. Board members cited the low rate of incidents as proof that districts already have adequate regulations in place. See #MyKPR's story on this subject by Stephen Koranda.

(earlier AP version)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials have been weighing in on taking possible action on the Obama administration's directive on transgender students' use of bathrooms in public schools. Topeka Public School Board Member Peg McCarthy spoke in favor of the Obama administration's directive and encouraged board members to also support it during the state board of education's public forum. The school district added gender identity and gender expression to the schools' non-discrimination policy five years ago, McCarthy said. She told The Associated Press that schools statewide should amend their non-discrimination policy to ensure protection for transgender students. She cited that 90 percent of transgender students experience verbal or physical harassment at schools nationwide. "All they ask is to learn and live in peace and safety," McCarthy said. Topeka public schools also allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity and offers gender neutral facilities. 

Meanwhile, a member of the Kansas House says he's drafted a proposal that would prevent transgender students from using school bathrooms that do not match their birth genders. But Republican Representative John Whitmer, of Wichita, told The Wichita Eagle that he doesn't plan to push for a debate during the Legislature's coming special session unless Democrats seek to amend an education funding bill. Lawmakers convene June 23 to address a state Supreme Court order to make the school finance system fairer to poor school districts or risk having schools remain closed after June 30. Whitmer said his proposal would encourage schools to create gender-neutral bathrooms. Democratic Representative John Carmichael of Wichita said it would be irresponsible of legislators to delay an education funding solution with a dispute over bathrooms.

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