South Carolina and nine other states are suing the federal government over rules requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms conforming to their gender identity.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court in Nebraska. The other states involved are Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The suit is in response to a May 13 directive issued by the Obama administration, signed by the Departments of Justice and Education, that every public school district in the country should let transgender students use facilities consistent with their gender identity. The order includes an implied threat that schools that do not abide by the administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or risking losing federal aid.
Friday’s suit brings the number of states challenging the directive to 24, according to the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.
Melissa Moore, executive director of We Are Family, called the suit “a horrible waste of resources in a state that’s already really poor. Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me, just because of our state’s history with LGBT issues. We kind of figured that South Carolina wasn’t going to go down without a fight.”
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a news release that the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice have circumvented established law and the process for changing existing laws. Peterson also says the rule takes away the authority of local school districts to deal with such issues on an individualized basis.
“President Obama cannot force this unconstitutional mandate on South Carolina schools by allowing Washington bureaucrats to re-write federal law,” state Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “By threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding from our schools, this administration is once again displaying a complete lack of respect for the 10th Amendment, the rule of law and a total disregard for the well-being of our children. This cannot be tolerated.”
State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said Friday he was unaware of the suit but agreed with it.
“Those policy matters, I believe, are best left up to local school boards,” he said.
In May, after the Berkeley County School District said it would allow transgender students to use the restroom with which they identify, Grooms introduced local legislation in the Senate to reverse the decision in Berkeley County for the coming school year. The bill died after a lobbying blitz by top state education and economic officials worried the measure would hurt the state financially.
His goal was to force Berkeley County to go back to its original standard of allowing school administrators to decide on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Last month, Dorchester District 2 agreed to let a transgender elementary student use the restroom she identifies with as a voluntary resolution to a complaint, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Lawsuits are coming down in favor of students who have demanded the right to be respected in their schools,” Moore said. “The Department of Education and the Department of Justice have made clear that to deny access to the appropriate facilities is out of compliance with federal Title IX regulations. Schools should not wait on lawsuits to do what is right. Transgender and gender nonconforming young people need parents, community members and school board members to ensure a safe environment where they can learn, participate in campus life, and succeed like anyone else.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713.