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Walters urges Oklahoma schools to ignore new Biden administration Title IX rules

State Superintendent Ryan Walters
Brent Fuchs
For Oklahoma Voice
State Superintendent Ryan Walters at an Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters instructed all Oklahoma districts to ignore new Title IX regulations from the Biden administration, giving guidance directly at odds with the federal government.

Walters sent a letter on Wednesday to all 542 school districts and charter schools in the state, urging them not to create new policies that would align with the federal regulations.

Oklahoma schools are obligated to follow the Title IX regulations if they want to receive federal funding, the U.S. Department of Education said in a statement to Oklahoma Voice.

“The Department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to give complete effect to the Title IX statutory guarantee that no person experiences sex discrimination in federally-funded education,” the agency said. “As a condition of receiving federal funds, all federally-funded schools are obligated to comply with these final regulations and we look forward to working with school communities all across the country to ensure the Title IX guarantee of nondiscrimination in school is every student’s experience.”

Walters called the changes “illegal and unconstitutional” and damaging for women, particularly how they include treatment based on gender identity within the scope of sex discrimination.

“I expect there will be litigation filed soon challenging the validity of these rules,” Walters wrote.

The rules, when they take effect Aug. 1, could put schools at odds with existing law, Walters said.

Oklahoma law requires individuals to use school restrooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificate, not their gender identity. The state also banned transgender girls from participating in women’s sports.

The new Title IX rules don’t govern eligibility criteria for athletic teams, according to a federal education department fact sheet. It’s unclear whether they would affect school restroom policies.

Conflicting guidance from federal and state authorities creates a Catch-22 scenario for schools, said Rick Cobb, superintendent of Midwest City-Del City Public Schools.

Oklahoma’s public education system receives hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal funding, including crucial dollars that support impoverished students, cafeteria meals and academic programs.

Cobb said this is the first time he can recall that the Oklahoma State Department of Education has told him to ignore federal regulations.

“We will consult with our legal counsel before proceeding,” he said.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, criticized Walters for fighting rules that would protect queer and transgender students. The organization’s senior director of legal policy, Cathryn Oakley, accused Walters of “choosing theatrics and extremism over protecting and furthering the needs of the students and schools he was elected to serve.”

“Refusing to comply with Title IX could have damaging consequences for Oklahoma schools, including significant loss in funding on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars in a state that currently ranks 49th in academic achievement,” Oakley said in a statement. “It is clear that his only priority is himself and his own political profile — not Oklahoma students.”

Walters said the regulations betray women and put schools at risk of lawsuits.

“The Biden administration will stop at nothing to try to redefine our God-given characteristics as male and female, and with this rule change it has put radical gender ideology ahead of the safety of our young women and girls,” he said in a statement Friday.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.
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