LITTLE ROCK, AK (AP) – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday recommended that public schools in his state disregard an Obama administration directive that they must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.
The Republican governor criticized the directive that schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex. The guidance was issued earlier by leaders of the federal Justice and Education departments.
“The federal government is stirring the pot and meddling in the local control and administration of our schools,” Hutchinson said in a statement issued by his office. “As governor, I recommend that local school districts disregard the latest attempt at social engineering by the federal government and continue to use common sense to ensure a safe and healthy environment in Arkansas schools.”
The guidance does not impose any new legal requirements. But officials say it’s meant to clarify expectations of school districts that receive funding from the federal government. Arkansas has received $432 million in federal funds for its public schools in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration.
Arkansas Department of Education Spokeswoman Kim Friedman said the department supports Hutchinson’s recommendation.
“Our guidance to school districts in Arkansas is what it has always been to provide a healthy and safe environment for all students,” she wrote in an email.
The nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group criticized Hutchinson’s comments, accusing the governor and any other states defying the guidance as risking billions of dollars in education funding.
“Governor Hutchinson has shamefully decided to play politics with the lives of transgender students – and is also demonstrating his lack of knowledge about the law,” Jay Brown, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “These guidelines, which teachers and administrations were requesting, are supported by case law and have been enforced now for years.”
Hutchinson’s comments come more than a year after he asked lawmakers to revise a religious objections measure that came under fire from LGBT advocates, Bentonville-based Wal-Mart and others who called an initial version discriminatory. Hutchinson was also criticized last year for not vetoing another bill aimed at preventing cities and counties from passing local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Hutchinson allowed that measure to become law without his signature.
Top Republicans in the state, including U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, cheered Hutchinson’s recommendation on Friday. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, agreed with Hutchinson’s call to disregard the directive.
“I will also work with my colleagues across the country to determine if legal action against this directive is necessary in order to keep our students safe,” She said in a statement.
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