TOPEKA — Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, began circulating a letter this week in hopes of getting other lawmakers to join him in protesting recent federal guidelines directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and engage in other activities that correspond to their gender identity.
The letter, which is addressed to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Education Secretary John King, calls those guidelines an example of "federal overreach" that infringes on states' rights under the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"We will not stand by while Kansas children are used as pawns in a social engineering experiment," the letter states. "We encourage and support Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in using all legal means to defend the state in this matter." The action comes at a time 11 other states are suing the Obama administration over its directive.
Merrick's letter states further that the federal policy directs Kansas and other states "to forsake fairness, compassion and privacy for a vast majority of students in favor of social experimentation that carries huge safety risks."
It wasn't immediately clear Wednesday how many other lawmakers had signed on to Merrick's letter.
On May 13, the Justice and Education departments issued a joint letter to school districts around the country, advising them that under federal Title IX regulations, "a school must treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their education records or identification documents indicate a different sex."
Specifically regarding restrooms and locker rooms, the agencies said, "A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity."
That letter sparked a firestorm of controversy nationwide. Last week, the Kansas State Board of Education debated whether to adopt a formal statement opposing that policy.
Board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, said accepting such a federal policy "could be the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back and result in the destruction of traditional American public schools.”
On a 6-4 vote, the Board decided to postpone any action until its next monthly meeting in June.
Meanwhile, some conservative state lawmakers have said they hope to pass a resolution condemning the policy next week, when the House and Senate reconvene for the formal "sine die" ceremony to close the 2016 legislative session.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, which advocates for LGBT rights, said he believes Merrick's concerns about the safety of school children are misplaced.
"If he were really concerned, he wouldn’t single out one group of school children for bullying and intimidation," Witt said.
He also scoffed at the proposed resolution that may be considered in the House.
"They didn't have time to pass a constitutionally-required balanced budget, but they’ve found the time to beat up on little school kids," he said. "They should find the time to pick on somebody their own size."