Commissioner: Bathroom policies should be handled locally

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sent a memo to schools directors across the state on Wednesday that says policies about the use of bathrooms is best left to local districts.

McQueen's memo comes after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he wouldn't enforce directives from the Obama administration that said federal funding could be withheld if schools did not allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

It also follows legislation before the General Assembly that would create a law in Tennessee that would require public school students to use the bathroom according to the gender assigned on their birth certificates.

"We are confident local school districts are in the best position to appropriately and responsibly respect the rights and concerns of transgender students and others," McQueen wrote.

The memo is in opposition to legislation sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Lebanon, and Rep. Mark Pody, R-Mt. Juliet, that would force students at public schools in Tennessee to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender assigned on their birth certificates.

Beavers has declined requests for comment and interviews.

McQueen had a similar position in May when the Obama administration ordered schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Then, McQueen said she believed local districts could best handle their own policies.

Obama said students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, and that it was protected under federal Title IX guidelines.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally reiterated on Thursday a previous position that Beavers' bill is unnecessary, and it is an issue that is best left to local districts to decide, not a matter for state law.

"My preference would be to wait and see how locals handle it and see what happens," he said.

For the legislature to intervene in the future, McNally said it would "depend on what they did and how the legislature viewed what they did."

Beavers' bill has not been withdrawn.

In her memo, McQueen said Obama's directive created "a number of questions at the local level," and referenced a federal court injunction that barred enforcement of the Obama-led initiatives.

Jake Lowary covers Tennessee politics and state government for the USA Today Network. Reach him at 615-881-7039 or follow him on Twitter @JakeLowary

Tennessean


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