Georgia leaders criticize transgender bathroom rule, stop short of legal challenge

Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he will ask the state superintendent to help local districts struggling with the Obama administration's directive to public schools over transgender bathroom rules, but he stopped short of vowing to challenge the guidelines in court.

In a statement, Deal said the Obama administration's guidance last week that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity has generated "confusion and controversy" among students, parents and administrators. And he cast the directive as a "federal overreach."

More: Georgia GOP leaders prepare to open front in bathroom war

But he said it was up to the 181 school districts, and not the state, to determine an appropriate response, and asked Superintendent Richard Woods to provide guidance to "ensure that there will be as much uniformity across our state as possible."

State Senate Republicans have called on Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens to take a step further, urging them to file a lawsuit to block the directive and assure local school systems the state would defend them in court if they defied it.

Olens, in a separate statement, accused Obama of addressing a "sensitive and complex issue with a sledgehammer." But he also made no mention of a lawsuit, saying instead that he will take steps "to ensure that these decisions are being made at the appropriate level, as demanded by principles of separation of powers and federalism under our Constitution.”

More: Read about Georgia's entry into the transgender bathroom debate here.

Here's Deal's full statement:

"The Obama administration’s directive, recently announced by press release, to local school systems regarding accommodations for transgender students has generated confusion and controversy among parents, students and school officials. While I do not believe this directive carries the force of law, the Departments of Justice and Education have threatened to revoke federal funding from schools that fail to comply. Georgia’s constitution and state laws, however, require these decisions be made at the local level. While our 181 school systems must each determine an appropriate response to this federal overreach, I have asked State School Superintendent Richard Woods to provide guidance to those local school systems seeking assistance and clarity on this issue in order to ensure that there will be as much uniformity across our state as possible. Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority."

And here's what Olens said:

“I am confident that Georgia’s parents, teachers, and local communities will take every measure necessary to ensure that no child is harassed or intimidated at school for any reason—that is our responsibility as parents and leaders. But the “Guidance” Letter recently issued by the Obama Administration addresses a sensitive and complex issue with a sledgehammer. In yet another example of executive overreach, the Administration is attempting to use executive fiat to push schools toward whatever policy outcomes it desires without any legal or constitutional support, in this case relating to dorm rooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms.”

“Parents, teachers, and local communities have the right to determine the best way to address these issues without the heavy hand of the federal government threatening to take away billions of dollars of funding that schools rely on to educate our children. As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, I will take steps, when appropriate under the law, to ensure that these decisions are being made at the appropriate level, as demanded by principles of separation of powers and federalism under our Constitution.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.