- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2016

President Obama said Monday his administration directed schools to provide transgender bathrooms for students because school districts were imploring Washington for guidance to protect “vulnerable” children.

“Kids who are sometimes in the minority, kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender are subject to a lot of bullying, potentially,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “They are vulnerable. Schools were asking us, were asking the Department of Education, how should we handle this?”

The federal Education Department issued guidance Friday that public schools should allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their “gender identity,” rather than the gender on their birth certificate. Schools that don’t follow the guidance could risk losing federal funding.

While some on the left applauded the move, other state officials, school administrators and parents reacted with outrage. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said his state would fight the directive, saying Mr. Obama is “not a king.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, whose state is locked in a legal battle with the administration over the state’s bathroom law, called the federal guidance on transgender students in schools “massive executive branch overreach.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said schools “should not feel compelled to bow to such intimidation.”

SEE ALSO: Man who choked girl in women’s restroom stokes alarm over transgender access

Mr. Obama said the move was necessary because society should “treat these kids with dignity.”

“I think it is part of our obligation as a society to make sure that everybody is treated fairly and our kids are all loved and that they’re protected and that their dignity is affirmed,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re talking about kids.”

The president said the guidance could be rejected in the courts.

“Ultimately, depending on how these other lawsuits go, courts will affirm or reject how we see the issue,” he said. “We think it was important for schools who want to go ahead in a very practical way to try to deal with the school year, and what are they going to do next year, and how should we approach this, that we give them our best judgment.”

Administration officials say the rule on transgender bathroom access in schools is partly a response to safety concerns, and that the need for guidance became more urgent after North Carolina passed its “bathroom bill” in March.

“There’s no denying that in the last several months, there has been increased public awareness of dealing with this issue,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “The truth is school administrators across the country are dealing with an actual dilemma. It has consequences for the safety and dignity of every student at their school.”

While the administration moved fairly quickly on that issue, the president’s team has refused for nearly eight years to threaten the loss of federal funding for “sanctuary cities,” communities that protect illegal immigrants from deportation, some of whom have gone on to commit crimes including murder.

Mr. Earnest rejected the comparison, saying “it’s hard to keep track of the various proposals around sanctuary cities that have been put forward by Republicans.”

“The truth is and the irony about this is that it’s Republicans who blocked comprehensive immigration reform legislation,” Mr. Earnest said. “So it’s a little rich for Republicans to block the solution and then blame the president for not punishing cities who are dealing with the problem.”

The White House castigated Republican officials for opposing the school bathroom guidance, accusing them of playing politics.

“I was not surprised to see that there were Republican politicians who are seeking to use this as a political tool,” he said. “Too often, there’s a tendency on the part of politicians to cynically use these kinds of decisions to score political points and to slice and dice the electorate.”

Administration officials said the guidance is meant to clarify expectations under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

“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,” said Education Secretary John King.

Some Republicans say it’s proof that states don’t need the federal Education Department.

“Neither the president nor Congress, and certainly not either acting alone, has the constitutional authority to determine bathroom policy in the 50 states,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican. “Along with common core and school lunch mandates, the recent bathroom edict is another reason why we should abolish the federal Department of Education.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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