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Bathroom Bill returns to state legislature

Xavier Smith • Updated Jan 11, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Focus on public school bathrooms returned to the Tennessee General Assembly as the 2018 session kicked off Tuesday.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, introduced legislation that would expand the attorney general and reporter’s duties to include representation of school districts in court or administrative tribunal that results from policy requiring students, faculty and staff to use restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that align with their biological sex.

The bill approaches the heavily debated public schools bathroom subject from a different angle than previous years.

Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, pulled a bill last year as a representative in the House that would have required students in state high schools and colleges to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

Pody pulled the bill, citing the changing political scope.

Several education leaders, including Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright, said local districts should have control over how to handle the issue.

“It’s not an issue for us. We take care of our kids,” Wright said last year, adding the district is sensitive to student needs, as well as parent and guardian concerns.

Wright said schools feature a single-stall, gender-neutral restroom that any student who feels it’s necessary is allowed to use.

Wright said in schools where enrollment can exceed 1,800 students, it would be difficult to monitor all students.

“It becomes sort of farfetched to monitor, because we simply don’t have the personnel. We don’t want to get into policing bathrooms,” Wright said.

President Donald Trump’s administration revoked guidance to public schools last year to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. Trump argued states and public schools officials should have the authority to make their own decisions regarding transgender students and their access to restrooms and locker rooms.

Following the Trump administration’s revocation, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the duo’s bathroom bill is no longer necessary.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Gov. Bill Haslam expressed concerns about the bill in separate occasions in previous years. Haslam voiced concerns the bill could endanger federal funding and wanted to leave the issue up to individual school districts.

“Right now we’re handing that on a local basis, and I think they’re dealing it with on an incident-by-incident situation,” Haslam said in 2016. “I actually trust our teachers and local school boards to figure out how to make those accommodations in those situations.”

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