BY AJ TRAGER
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette, long believed to be a Republican candidate for governor in 2018, joined a coalition of 10 states July 8 fighting the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent federal directive extending protections to LGBT youth in schools.
The lawsuit, filed by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson and joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming, requests that the federal guidance is unlawful and seeks permanent injunction prohibiting the federal government from implementation or enforcement.
Anna Heaton, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the State of Michigan itself is not a party to the lawsuit and that Snyder has declined to participate. Schuette sued for the “people” of Michigan when Snyder did not bless the suit on the state’s behalf. “Our time and attention is focused elsewhere right now,” Heaton said.
This is the latest in a series of clashes between Snyder and Schuette.
“The Obama administration’s unilateral directive on education policy and Title IX funding is yet another example of federal overreach,” Schuette said in a statement. “The manner in which this directive was made ignored the essential role of parents in making decisions about their children, omitted participation of local schools, violated the Administrative Procedures Act and bypassed Congress’ constitutional responsibilities.”
On May 13 the federal government issued an LGBT guidance to school districts requiring them to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity; allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and provide access to sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity; and protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status.
According to the “Dear colleague” letter sent to school districts in the spring, the Department of Education maintains that requiring trans students to use the facilities that align with their gender assigned at birth violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Title IX – the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
Schuette has been fighting against the LGBT-inclusive youth guidelines for months. He issued a letter May 26 following the federal guidance, written to the Obama Administration, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Education John King, requesting they retract a federal directive and called it “another prime example of federal overreach.”
The Michigan State Board of Education heard public testimony earlier this year on a proposed set of LGBT guidelines for K-12 schools that offer similar instruction to that which the U.S. Department of Education has issued. The board is expected to make a decision on the guidelines sometime in August. If passed, LGBT youth in Michigan public schools will have more protections against harassment and bullying along with additional safety. Schuette has yet to comment on those guidelines.
Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin was quick to respond to the news from Schuette’s office.
“It is unfortunate that, as he did with gay marriage, Bill Schuette is on the wrong side of history and wants to represent Michigan as a state inhospitable to our LGBT citizens,” Austin said in a statement. “Transgender school children, as all children, deserve dignity, respect and the right to be acknowledged and accepted in school, so they can go about the business of getting a great education.”
“In his july 8 statement Schuette wrote “every child in every school must be provided with dignity, privacy, respect and safety” and claims to take the issue of discrimination “very seriously.”
“That is why my office works daily to protect children from bullying and address the issue of teen suicide. Last year, our program to stop school violence, OK2SAY, received 1,336 tips concerning bullying, drugs, suicide, self-harm and other potential acts of violence, allowing officials to come to the aid of students in need of help, including transgender students.”
The OK2SAY program is designed to empower students, parents, school personnel, community mental health service programs and law enforcement to share and respond to student safety threats. Individuals can submit a tip OK2SAY at anytime and report a planned fight, if a student is engaging in self harm, instances of bullying or more. Depending on the situation either a mental health professional, law enforcement officer or existing school personnel will be notified.
According to OK2SAY.com from Sept. 2, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2015, 2,770 tips were received; over 1,000 of which were instances of bullying and cyber-bullying.
The GLSEN 2013 National School Climate survey found that most schools are not safe for LGBT youth in Michigan and only 9 percent of students attended a public school with a comprehensive anti-bullying and/or harassment policy that included specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The report found that the majority of LGBT students experienced verbal harassment based on the LGBT part of their identity.
The survey also found that 57 percent of students who were harassed or assaulted in school never reported it to school staff and 52 percent never told a family member about the incident. Among students who did report incidents to school authorities, only 32 percent said that reporting resulted in effective intervention by staff.