The Obama administration says public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that align with the gender they identify with.
The sweeping directive comes amid clashes on the issue across the country, including one between the Texas lieutenant governor and the Fort Worth ISD superintendent.
School districts nationwide received a letter Friday about the new formal guidance from the United States Department of Education and the Department of Justice. It warns them that transgender students are entitled to the same anti-discrimination protections as other students.
The directive requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to bathrooms based on their gender identity. Obama's letter said a school's failure to treat students consistent with their gender identity may create or contribute to a hostile environment.
Although not legally binding, the directive does threaten lawsuits or loss of federal aid.
At the Texas Republican Convention in Dallas, Gov. Greg Abbott said he'll work to oppose the directive. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who earlier this week called for the resignation of the Fort Worth superintendent for that district's policies, accused the president of interfering in local politics.
Patrick said Texas would rather do without federal funding than comply.
"He can keep his 30 pieces of silver," he said during a press conference Friday morning. "We will not be blackmailed. He's threatening to take money from the poorest."
Texas currently receives about $10 billion under a federal free lunch program, but Patrick said the state would find a way to make up that money somehow.
Marcos Ronquillo worked for the Carter administration in the Justice Department's civil rights unit. He says the document put forth by the government provide schools with a series of best practices of handling issues that are already being implemented nationwide.
"Practices, policies and procedures as detailed as dealing with the transition issues of a child that is transgender," Ronquillo said. "It also a privacy confidentiality of records, sex segregated activities and facilities and good practices that a school district can basically employ."
Ronquillo expects districts will turn to their attorneys to figure out what to do and how to do it. He expects compliance even though Dan Patrick is urging districts not to enact the expanded policy.
Patrick called the transgender bathroom issue the biggest issue since prayer was taken out of schools.
"He's taking money from the poorest of the poor," he said. "This is not law. It's a recommendation with a threat."
Most Texas Republicans promise not to let the issue die.
"It seems like massive overreach, especially considering how divisive it is right now," said Leighton Berridge, a Republican from Southlake.
"That's the kind of thing that Obama does that doesn't make any sense," added Donna Harp, a Republican from Austin. "It's just inappropriate."
Miguel Solis, a Dallas ISD school board trustee, issued a statement in support of the policy. He called it "a validation of school boards that have passed non-discrimination policies and superintendents that created guidelines to match them."
He added that the "bold stance the Fort Worth ISD and administration recently took caught the eye of the nation and we as a society are better because of this."
Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Schribner approved guidelines last month for protection of transgender students. They do not include equal access to all bathrooms.
"As educators, our job is to provide a safe and nurturing learning environment so that our children can prepare for success in college, career and community leadership. Our guidelines seek parental and family involvement in any decision that could impact a student's academic success. The bottom line is that our policy helps protect kids from bullying…nothing more, nothing less," he said in a statement Friday.
The issue is already in the federal courts because of a lawsuit between the state of North Carolina and the Department of Justice.