The Gwinnett County School System issued a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday to the U.S. departments of Justice and Education, stating it will not follow the “guidance” offered in the joint letter issued by those departments on May 13 to schools across the country regarding transgender students and school restroom facilities.
The current practice, explained the letter, is for Gwinnett County schools to offer separate restrooms for boys and girls, with accommodations for transgender students made through unisex bathrooms. “We believe our current practice is reasonable, logical, and workable, and therefore, it should not be uprooted by what we consider an overreach by two federal agencies,” the letter stated.
Calling the topic “a sensitive and complex issue that has sparked spirited debate in our nation,” the school system said the debate would likely not be settled unless through courts or Congress. In the meantime, local school systems familiar with their communities should be given the responsibility of managing the controversy with “common sense and sensitivity.”
State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, told Channel 2 Action News that he plans on introducing legislation that will challenge the federal government’s sovereign immunity from lawsuits over the directive.
“We are a republic, not a monarchy. Even if Obama issues a decree, that doesn’t give it any legal force,” McKoon said. “If this is not resolved by next January, my intention is to introduce a bill that says if someone is victimized as a result of changing this policy, if some gets hurt, then the state will waive its immunity from suit.”
“We believe our current practice is reasonable, logical, and workable, and therefore, it should not be uprooted by what we consider an overreach by two federal agencies.”
Citing Title IX, the USDOE asserted that discrimination based on a student’s sex, including transgender status, could result in the loss of federal funding. During the Great Recession Georgia became very reliant on such funding to the tune of $10.4 billion in fiscal year 2008, with most of it going toward public health care, education, and transportation. In the coming year that figure is expected to be $12 billion, or 31.6 percent of state spending. From 2008-12, federal spending on Georgia’s education programs increased from $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
On May 12, the night before the federal government guidance letter was issued, a Fannin County Board of Education meeting held in the cafeteria of Fannin County High brought an overflow crowd viewing the proceedings from the school gym, according to fannin.fetchyournews.com. Caught in the national news cycle of transgender students and bathrooms, the North Georgia school system allowed the community to speak as well as try and address rumors.
No, the board wasn’t voting that night on transgender bathrooms, just providing a forum for speaking. No, the jobs of school system employees had not been threatened. No, the schools do not have unisex bathrooms.
Speaking to the crowd, County Attorney Lynn Doss said the school system could do without the $3.5 million in federal funding available to local schools, but would suffer under the $1,000-a-day penalty for not providing a bathroom.