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Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks to reporters and editors at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today criticized the Obama administration's decision to issue guidance to the nation's public schools that tells educators to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their preferred gender identity.

In his statement, Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, reminded the Obama administration that "insofar as the federal government goes, it's up to Congress to write the law, not the executive departments.

"And guidance issued by the departments does not amount to federal law and should not be treated as such," Alexander added.

Earlier today, the Obama administration announced a joint letter was going out from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice with guidelines to ensure "transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment.

The directive comes in the midst of a court battle between the federal government and the state of North Carolina over the state's recent passage of a new transgender law. It restricts people, including students, to using facilities that match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

Tennessee lawmakers this year fought over a similar bill that restricted public K-12 and college students to restrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their sex at birth. 

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam raised concerns about the bill after Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned in a legal opinion the state could lose $1 billion in federal funding under the Obama administration's interpretation of federal Title IX rules applying to sex discrimination.

The House sponsor of the Tennessee bill ultimately withdrew the measure.

Alexander said of the Obama administration's directive that "this is the kind of issue that parents, schools boards, communities, students and teachers should be allowed to work out in a practical way with a maximum amount of respect for the individual rights of all students."

The Associated Press cited a letter from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in which she said "there is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex."

In a blog post on the U.S. Education Department's website, Catherine E. Lhamon, the agency's assistant secretary for Civil Rights, and Vanita Gupta, head of Justice's Civil Rights Division, said the directive came in response from a "growing chorus" of guidance requests.

"Schools want to do right by all of their students and have looked to us to provide guidance on steps they can take to ensure that every student is comfortable at their school, is in an environment free of discrimination, and has an opportunity to thrive," their post says.

They also noted the directive "identifies the key requirements that schools need to keep in mind to comply with Title IX and other federal laws as well as highlights "sensible ways that schools around the country have been able to address concerns from other students and parents without infringing upon transgender students' civil rights.

"The guidance does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces, when, for example, there are other appropriate options available," the blog post states. "And schools can also take steps to increase privacy within shared facilities.  And it reiterates that Title IX does not prohibit medically- and scientifically-sound requirements to ensure physical safety and competitive fairness in school sports."

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