New civil rights regulations released last month by the Biden administration presented school districts across the nation with a clear choice: Either adopt policies that allow transgender students to use the bathrooms, wear the uniforms and be called by the pronouns that correspond with their gender identity, or risk losing federal funding.

But several Republican-led states have responded with an equally clear message for their schools: Steer clear of such policies.

The clashing state and federal directives have put school officials in a difficult spot, education officials said. School boards may face federal investigations, litigation from parents, threats of a state takeover or lost funding.

“No matter which way a school district goes, they’re going to possibly draw a lawsuit from someone in disagreement, whether that’s a federal regulator or a private person who doesn’t agree with how the district handled it,” said Sonja Trainor, managing director for school law at the National School Boards Association. “A lot of schools are going to be in no man’s land.”

The dispute centers on Title IX, the 1972 law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. The new regulations from the Biden administration interpret “discrimination on the basis of sex” to include discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes and gender identity. The regulations did not address whether transgender students should be able to play on school sports teams corresponding to their gender identity. A second rule on that question is expected later.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Miguel A. Cardona, the education secretary, told reporters when the new regulations were announced in April.


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