Like educators across the country, administrators for both local school systems are watching to see how various courts interpret federal anti-discrimination rules.

In January, two organizations with competing political views sent letters to all Tennessee school districts sharing their interpretations of Title IX, a portion of federal education law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

The crux of the issue, as reported by national media outlets in recent months, is whether schools must allow transgender students to use sex-specific facilities of the gender they self-identify with rather than that which they were born with.

In mid-January, Alliance Defending Freedom -- a non-profit legal organization that advocates for "the right of people to freely live out their faith" -- sent letters to every Tennessee school district regarding the issue.

According to ADF, the letter encouraged the state's school districts "to reject policies that would open restrooms and locker rooms to opposite-sex students."

"The letters explain that no federal law requires public schools to allow boys into girls' restrooms or girls into boys' restrooms," a news release from ADF says. "Schools and school districts could be exposing themselves to legal liability for violating students' right to bodily privacy."

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee -- a non-profit legal organization founded "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the U.S." -- sent the state's school districts a letter advising that ADF's proposed policies "could put schools at risk of violating the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, exposing schools to legal liability."

According to the ACLU, legislation pending in the Tennessee General Assembly that would require students at schools and public higher education institutions to use only restrooms and locker rooms that match the gender on their birth certificates could also put districts at risk of federal litigation.

"Excluding transgender students from using the same restrooms as other students deprives them of equal access to educational opportunity in violation of Title IX," an ACLU news release states. "The U.S. Department of Education has said that Title IX requires schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity when separating students in different facilities, such as restrooms."


While the issue has been heavily politicized in some areas, the differing interpretations of Title IX's requirements have had little practical effect locally.

In recent interviews, administrators for both the Greene County and Greeneville City schools systems said they know of no issues in local schools related to concerns about sex-specific facilities.

"I received the two letters, but I have not looked at those a whole lot," said Greene County Director of Schools David McLain.

He said that, although no issues have been brought to his attention, principals in the Greene County Schools System are authorized to allow students a "reasonable accommodation" if a gender-based situation presents itself.

"We have faculty restrooms appropriate for both sexes," McLain said. "I've not been told by any principals that this has taken place, but we would allow a student to utilize a unisex bathroom. Those are for boys and girls, and those bathrooms have locks on them."

However, McLain noted that Greene County Schools would not allow students to utilize locker rooms for a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

"We are not going to allow males in females' bathrooms and locker rooms or anything like that at all, no," he said.

Greeneville City Schools are taking a similar approach, director Dr. Jeff Moorhouse said.

"My approach would be that we want to do what's in the best interest of all kids. We want to consider the safety and privacy of all students," Moorhouse said. He added that, if a situation presented itself, his "response would be to provide a gender-neutral facility for individuals to protect their privacy."

Like Greene County's schools, the majority of Greeneville City schools are equipped with locking, unisex restrooms for faculty members.

Interpretation of Title IX is "a topic that's playing itself out in courts across our country," Moorhouse said. "We're paying close attention to what is happening as it moves through those opinions of different courts."

The Tennessee School Boards Association, which provides policy updates and suggests model policies, has not sent out a policy related to access of sex-segregated facilities, Moorhouse said.

While Greeneville City Schools have not had issues related to gender-segregated facilities, teachers make a variety of accommodations for students with different needs, he said.

Although administrators see the issue of gender-identity as being different from medical needs, Greeneville City Schools are willing to make "reasonable accommodations" for all students, Moorhouse said.

"Educators make different kinds of accommodations every day for students. It doesn't have to come through a formal request," he said. "The culture we've tried to establish is that a teacher doesn't have to ask an administrator. It's OK if a kid needs to go to a faculty bathroom. We've empowered our teachers to act in the best interest of all kids."

Moorhouse said the school system will continue to monitor courts' opinions on the issue.

"Obviously, we would respond to whatever laws or court opinions were handed down. Right now, we're just kind of in that 'wait and see,'" he said. "This has not been an issue for us, but it is something we are paying attention to."