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President Obama to schools: Let transgender students choose or lose funding

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Public schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity or face loss of federal funds, according to a letter sent out to school administrators across the country Friday.

The Obama administration directive, with guidance from leaders at the U.S. Justice and Education departments, was issued amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina.

The text of the directive said "a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity."

Parents in Richmond had mixed opinions about the issue.

"The White House should stay out of it," Earlie Elliot, whose child is in high school, said. "A male is a male and a female is a female. Just because you dress different, then your parts don’t change."

Kathy Harman, a mother to two, said she agreed with the White House’s interpretation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding.

"The schools ought to let the kids do what they want," Harman said. "But, I don’t think the federal government should be mandating that."

The guidance comes days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a new state law that stated transgender people must use public bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

The directive stated schools should let those students use facilities consistent with their gender identity and staff should address those students by their preferred names and pronouns.

Richmond School Board Member Kim Gray, who represents the city’s 2nd District, said Richmond schools will fall in line with guidelines of the letter.

"We have to obey what the White House says," Gray said. "We can’t risk the loss in the funding, but at the end of the day it’s the right thing to do."

Richmond Public Schools spokeswoman Kenita Bowers sent us this statement:

The Richmond Public School Board will review the White House directive to assess the implications to the school district's current policies and determine our next steps. The school district's existing policies regarding non-discrimination are reflective of our stance on gender identification and equal opportunity for all students. RPS is committed to ensuring that all students have a fair opportunity to receive their education in a safe, supportive learning environment.

A Henrico County Public School spokesperson could not immediately comment on the issue.

Chesterfield County Public Schools have not yet responded to our request for a comment.