Trump Administration Rolls Back Protections for Transgender Students

The Trump administration this week rescinded Obama-era guidance to protect transgender students, reported The Washington Post.

U.S. Education and Justice Department officials notified the Supreme Court late Wednesday that the administration is directing the nation's schools and colleges to disregard the January 2015 and May 2016 Dear Colleague Letters from the Obama administration. The previous guidance cited the Title IX anti-discrimination law as the basis for requiring institutions to allow transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.

The new two-page Dear Colleague Letter from the Trump administration states that the earlier documents do not "contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX." The letter also argues that the Obama administration's directive was issued without undergoing a formal public review, sowed confusion, and drew legal challenges.

The departments wrote that the Trump administration wants to "further and more completely consider the legal issues involved," and said that there must be "due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy." Although it offered no clarity or direction to schools that have transgender students, the letter added that "schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment."

The earlier guidance was issued at a time of growing controversy over which restrooms and locker rooms transgender students were permitted to use, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. A lawsuit stemming from that controversy is due to be heard next month by the U.S. Supreme Court, and in a separate letter on Wednesday the Justice Department informed the court that it had withdrawn the Obama guidance. A separate but related dispute has ensnared the University of North Carolina system and a state law, HB 2, that the Obama administration sued to block.

According to The New York Times, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos argued against withdrawing the Obama-era guidance because she was "uncomfortable" with "the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students." She also resisted signing the letter, according to the Times.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions purportedly urged DeVos to back the new guidance, which required approval from both departments. President Trump allegedly sided with Sessions, prompting DeVos to go along on the condition that the administration include language instructing schools to crack down on bullying of transgender students.

The decision to withdraw the previous guidance drew immediate condemnation from gay and transgender rights advocates, who accused President Trump of violating past promises to support gay and transgender protections, the Washington Post reported. Advocates said that the withdrawal of the federal guidance will create another layer of confusion for schools and will make transgender students, who are already vulnerable, more so.


Related Links

The Washington Post

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The New York Times