The Department of Education announced Monday it will no longer be investigating complaints made by transgender students regarding being banned from school bathrooms matching their gender identity.
Those students allege that the decision leaves them vulnerable to violence and bullying, according to The Washington Post.
In 2016, the Obama administration issued a directive calling on public schools to permit students to use the restroom facilities corresponding to their gender identities, rather than their sex assigned at birth.
The administration had determined that prohibiting transgender students from using public school restrooms of their choice was a form of gender discrimination under Title IX.
But in 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked this guidance, not long after President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
Although the Trump administration’s move was widely criticized by civil rights groups, who claimed that such an ordinance could endanger the welfare of transgender students, DeVos asserted that the decision was being left up to states and individual school districts.
DeVos and Sessions argued that Title IX did not require that schools allow transgender students to use whatever restrooms they want.
Supporters of the Obama-era directive say that being able to use the restroom facilities of their preference is necessary for their safety and well-being.
Still, non-transgender students and their families have asserted that such actions are an invasion of privacy.
Title IX bars sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds. Advocates argue that the provision requires public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, and some federal appeals courts have supported this interpretations.
The Department of Education views the law differently, though it will continue to investigate other forms of discrimination.
“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill told The Post.
“Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. In the case of bathrooms, however, longstanding regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” she added.
The newspaper pressed Hill further, questioning whether the department would actually investigate such claims.
“Where (the Office for Civil Rights) does not have jurisdiction based on current law (the Office for Civil Rights) does not investigate,” Hill replied.
The Education Department’s move has been praised by conservatives, including those at the Family Research Council
“Family Research Council is pleased that the Department of Education has now made explicit what was implicit in their withdrawal of the Obama administration guidance on transgender students a year ago,” FRC senior policy fellow Peter Sprigg said in a statement to The Western Journal.
“The federal government has no legitimate role in regulating the use of showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms in local schools, and schools remain free under Title IX to separate such facilities on the basis of biological sex at birth.”
Sprigg noted that in most of the country, local school districts are also “free to address students who identify as transgender on a case by case basis, offering them reasonable accommodation to meet their legitimate needs without violating the privacy rights of the majority of students.”
But others have criticized the Education Department’s action.
For example, Catherine Lhamon, head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under former President Barack Obama, called the department’s statement “appalling and deeply dangerous,” according to The Post.
“The federal courts have multiple times made clear that Title IX protects transgender students,” Lhamon said. “They just don’t have the option to say, ‘We just don’t apply the law here.'”
Despite Lhamon’s criticisms, DeVos has continued to insist that her department will not overlook bullying or harassment of transgender students in public schools.
“Please note that the withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment,” DeVos wrote last year after rescinding the Obama-era directive. “All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
The school bathroom debate, meanwhile, is part of a larger national debate over transgender rights in public restrooms and changing areas.
A 2016 article from Time magazine noted that even in the most liberal areas of the country, many people have concerns about the implications of allowing transgender individuals use the restroom of their preference.
In May of that year, members of a girl’s swimming team in Manhattan were too frightened to use their changing facility, after a “bearded individual” was seen in the women’s changing room. This incident occurred around the time that a new sign appeared announcing that visitors had the right to use the restroom consistent with their “gender identity or gender expression.”
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