Education Department Will No Longer Investigate Transgender Students’ Complaints About School Bathrooms

The Education Department confirmed Monday it is no longer investigating civil rights complaints from transgender students barred from school bathrooms that match their gender identity, a development those students say leaves them vulnerable to bullying and violence.

The Obama administration in 2016 directed public schools to allow students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, even if that conflicted with the gender on their birth certificates. The administration concluded that barring transgender students from public school bathrooms was a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX.

But shortly after President Trump took office last year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the guidance, a move that was widely decried by civil rights groups who said it could endanger the welfare of transgender students. DeVos said states and individual school districts should be able to determine how to accommodate transgender students. They argued that Title IX did not obligate schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Transgender students say using the bathroom that feels right for them is essential for their safety and well-being and poses no threat to others. Some other students and their families see it as an affront to privacy and traditional values. It is a battle that has been waged at school board meetings, in state legislatures and in the courts. A transgender student from Virginia, Gavin Grimm, took his fight to use the boys’ bathroom to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. The high court declined to hear the case after DeVos reversed course on transgender students rights.

In the aftermath of the move, it remained unclear how the department would handle civil rights complaints from transgender students who were barred access to public school bathrooms. In June, Candice Jackson, the acting head of the Office for Civil Rights, told staff that it should evaluate civil rights complaints from transgender students on a case-by-case basis but did not say outright that bathroom complaints should be dismissed. That same month, the department dismissed a long-running civil rights complaint from a transgender girl in Ohio who had been barred from the girls’ bathroom at school.

Transgender students held out hope that the department would continue to back them when they raised issues about bathroom access, even though the guidance was no longer in place. Advocates maintain that Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds, requires schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. Some federal appeals courts have backed this view.

But the department interprets the law differently. It confirmed Monday that it will not investigate civil rights complaints from transgender students regarding bathroom access, though it will continue to scrutinize other forms of discrimination. The development was first reported by BuzzFeed.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Moriah Balingit