- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert blasted the Obama administration’s order for public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The Republican governor said Friday that the recent announcement “is one of the most egregious examples of federal overreach I have ever witnessed.” He said he plans to fight the order if necessary.

The guidance from the Obama administration is not legally binding. But schools that refuse to comply could be hit with civil rights lawsuits from the government and could have their federal aid cut.

Other school officials in conservative Utah have also criticized the guidance, saying the issue should be handled locally and that the Obama administration should not use federal funds to threaten schools.

Democratic candidate for governor Michael Weinholtz praised the Obama administration’s order.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome or discriminated against. These guidelines tell transgender students that they deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else,” he said.

Jonathan Johnson, the other Republican campaigning for governor, did not respond to requests for comment.

The state’s Board of Education Chair David Crandall told schools in Utah that they don’t have to make any policy changes yet.

“It’s unfortunate that he felt like he had to do this, to tell us what to do or we’re going to pull federal funds,” said Kimberly Bird, spokeswoman for the Alpine School District, one of the largest in Utah.

Bird said students in her district who are biologically male are expected to use the men’s bathroom, while those who are biologically female use the women’s bathroom. If a student wants to use a different bathroom, their parents would need to meet with the school administration and they would decide whether to accommodate the request on a case-by-case basis. She said she doesn’t know of any student who has made such a request.

The school district has no plans to change that practice in light of the recent announcement.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, said she hopes Utah cares more about protecting children than about federal funding. “If they’re going to be that unreasonable, Utah doesn’t need that little bit of money,” she said.

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