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Rockford superintendent sends letter to lawmakers about transgender bathroom policy

Posted at 2:42 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 17:14:55-04

ROCKFORD, Mich. -- Rockford Public Schools is asking Michigan lawmakers for their guidance on how to handle the new transgender bathroom and locker room directive started by the Obama administration.

The administration is  telling public schools that they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The letter, sent to school districts Friday by the departments of Education and Justice, does not impose any new legal requirements.   Federal officials say the guidance is meant to clarify school districts' obligations to provide students with nondiscriminatory environments.

In response to the directive, Rockford Superintendent Dr. Michael Shibler penned a letter to several Michigan lawmakers, including senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenaw and representatives Justin Amash and Bill Huizenga.

"As Superintendent of the Rockford Public Schools, I am committed to providing a safe and orderly environment for ALL students.  Our school district has specific Board policies on hazing, harassing, bullying, etc., which we diligently enforce," the letter says.

The letter goes on to say that the district encourages "an accepting environment for all students" and that family bathrooms are provided in the middle schools, freshman center and high school for anyone "who is uncomfortable using a gender-specific restroom."

In the letter, Dr. Shibler also takes issue with part of the new directive.

"The Department of Justice’s position regarding transgender students being permitted to use locker rooms compatible to their 'gender identification' is dangerous and impinges on the safety of heterogeneous students," the letter says.

The letter continues:

As a school district, we also need to be respectful of and ensure everyone’s safety:  safety of the gender diverse/gender questionable/transgender student who is entering a locker room or restroom where the other students are physically the opposite sex, but also the safety of all students who, even if they are accepting, may not be capable of controlling adolescent emotional or physical response.  We are advised that providing a separate locker room or restroom violates the student’s rights because we are treating the student differently.  So what is the solution to satisfy all?

The letter expresses the confidence Dr. Shibler has in state and federal lawmakers that they strongly believe that all students attending public schools must have confidence that they are safe, secure and respected while attending school or school-related activities.

Congressman Bill Huizenga released a statement Friday regarding the Obama Administration's directive that states the following:

I am strongly opposed to the Obama Administration's threat to withhold education funding from Michigan schools, colleges, and universities, without allowing students, parents, and local school administrators to have a voice in the process. Gender identity is a deeply personal issue and decisions regarding its interpretation or definition by the federal government need to be made by the American people and their elected representatives, not through executive fiat by bureaucrats within the Obama Administration.

The Obama administration's directive comes amid a legal fight between the Justice Department and North Carolina over that state's law on bathroom use by transgender people.

The state and the federal government sued each other on Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report