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Arizona Joins Transgender Directive Suit, School Board Should Set Policy


The rift between the federal government and some states over transgender issues widened this week. Officials from 11 states filed suit to block new federal guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity. One of those states fighting the federal directive is Arizona. Diane Douglas is the state superintendent of public instruction. When we reached her in Phoenix via Skype, she said the lawsuit is not about whether transgender students should or should not be allowed to use the restroom or locker room where they're comfortable. It's a question, she said, of local control of the schools.

DIANE DOUGLAS: This is a question of federal overreach and the federal government reaching into the states and telling us how to run our school. That's what this issue is solely about. We expect policies to be set by their locally elected school board members who best know the circumstances in their district. But as far as this lawsuit, it's about federal overreach.

MONTAGNE: There are, potentially, real world consequences, though, of going against these guidelines. The federal government says not following their guidance could put federal education funds in jeopardy.

DOUGLAS: That's unconscionable at best. That they would hurt children that need funding for free and reduced lunch or that we would hurt and hold hostage children who may need special education services or services because of their economic conditions, that's shameful in my opinion.

MONTAGNE: Are there any cases where there has been a student who was asking to be allowed to use the facilities, the locker rooms and the bathrooms, in that person's school? And if so, what was the outcome for the families? Was there concern or protest? Or did it go smoothly?

DOUGLAS: I can't answer that question in full. I am aware of a school district. They made an accommodation. From what I understand, everybody was happy with the accommodation. And it's been working for them. But to what degree there may be any more, I can't answer to a specific number.

MONTAGNE: What happens, under current circumstances, if a local community refuses to make an accommodation?

DOUGLAS: You - I guess at this point you would have to ask the federal government how they intend to move forward.

MONTAGNE: If a student is - let's say a transgender student is bullied or thought he or she was not safe as he or she walked into a bathroom, would it be up to that very local school to step in? There's no outside control?

DOUGLAS: Arizona has a statute in place to protect all students from bullying. And I would expect that local school districts have policies adhering to those laws, and they apply them accordingly.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

DOUGLAS: You are most welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Diane Douglas is Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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