May 7, 2024 - Politics

Gov. Sanders tells schools to reject federal Title IX regulations

Illustration of the shadow of Arkansas on a pattern of Roman numeral IXes.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders last week ordered Arkansas to disregard recent changes to Title IX that expand protections for LGBTQ+ students.

Why it matters: Arkansas school districts are now caught between conflicting state and federal rules that could affect their funding.

Catch up quick: The new federal rule protects against "discrimination based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics." The law had been more narrowly applied under guidance from former President Trump's administration.

  • The policy from the Biden administration does not address transgender athletes, and the federal Education Department said its "rulemaking process is still ongoing for a Title IX regulation related to athletics."
  • The changes are scheduled to take effect Aug. 1.

What they're saying: Kelley Robinson, president of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the new rule "makes it clear" that school districts are obligated to protect students from discrimination.

State of play: Sanders' executive order, signed Thursday, notes the "policy of this state [is] that sex is an immutable characteristic of the human body, rooted in biology and the created order" and that it will continue to follow state law.

  • Specific Arkansas laws outlined in the order ban students from using a multiple-occupancy changing area not consistent with the sex on their birth certificate; prohibits requirements to use a student's preferred pronouns without parental permission; and bans transgender girls from female-designated sports leagues.

What she's saying: "If President Biden threatens our state with loss of educational funding because we refuse to go along with his election-year pandering, Arkansas will take the federal government to court," Sanders said at a news conference Thursday.

The big picture: At least five states are suing over the new Title IX rule.

Zoom out: "No matter which way a school district goes, they're going to possibly draw a lawsuit from someone in disagreement, whether that's a federal regulator or a private person who doesn't agree with how the district handled it," Sonja Trainor of the National School Boards Association told the New York Times.

  • "A lot of schools are going to be in no-man's land."

What's next: Sanders' executive order directs the state Department of Education to provide specific guidance on how to enforce the rights of Arkansans "to equal opportunity, free speech, due process, and privacy under the U.S. Constitution, Title IX, and state law."

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