The Obama administration on Friday ordered every public school district in the United States to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match the gender identity they have chosen.
"No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus," Education Secretary John King Jr. told The New York Times in a statement late Thursday.
"We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence."
"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement accompanying the directive.
The order, signed by the Education and Justice departments, describes what school districts should do to ensure that no students are discriminated against.
It will not have the force of law, but carries an implicit threat: Schools not abiding by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid,.
The decree comes amid the administration's battle with North Carolina over transgender rights and is most likely to renew attacks by Republicans that the White House is involving itself in state issues.
The Justice Department and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory sued each other over the transgender bathroom law he signed in March.
The law requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate. The ordinance only applies to schools, universities, government buildings and highway rest stops.
"We didn't think there was a problem at all until the Democrats brought this up in Charlotte, North Carolina," McCrory, 59, a first-term Republican, told Jake Tapper Wednesday on CNN.
"We didn't need a bathroom law. We never have asked for a bathroom law."
President Barack Obama condemned the law last month — and Lynch on Monday said it violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
"A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so," says the letter, a copy of which was provided to the Times.
Under federal law, a school must seek to "ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns," the letter states.
"As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students."
Once a child's parent or legal guardian indicates the individual's gender identity that "differs from previous representations or records," according to the letter, the child must be treated accordingly — without any requirement for a medical diagnosis or birth certificate to be produced, according to the letter.
Schools may — though are not required to — provide other restroom and locker room options for students who seek "additional privacy" for whatever reason, the letter states.
The Obama administration is including a 25-page document with the letter describing "emerging practices" currently in place in many schools around the country, the Times reports.
Those included installing privacy curtains or allowing students to change in bathroom stalls, according to the report.
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