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Trump administration undoes Obama's policy on transgender students and school bathrooms


The Trump Administration retreated today from the Obama White House's position that transgender students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity.

The controversy may ultimately be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which considers the case of 17-year-old Gavin Grimm next month. A transgender student who identifies as male, Gavin sued the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia after he was barred from using the boy’s bathroom at school. The teen had been allowed to use the boy’s bathroom in 2014, but the school board received complaints and voted a year later to require students to use the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender.

The rescinding of the U.S Department of Education's guidance on transgender student protections apparently came despite the reservations of new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Allegedly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued for the roll back and won over President Donald Trump.

In her statement tonight, DeVos cited "legal question" for the retreat on the policy, but also said, "We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools."

After the Obama administration issued its “Dear Colleague” guidance letter on school bathrooms in May, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods sent his own letter to Georgia’s 180 school districts, telling them:

As this guidance does not have the force of law, you are not required to comply with this directive or make changes to your established actions and policies. The doctrine of "local control" is deeply rooted in our constitution and laws here in Georgia, and I am confident that you, as the superintendent of your district, along with your board of education and with counsel and support from your local board attorney, will continue to appropriately address concerns surrounding this complex and sensitive matter. I believe there are safety and privacy concerns associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom and locker rooms. For that reason, I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex.

The Trump reversal sparked swift rebukes. “We all know that Donald Trump is a bully, but his attack on transgender children today is a new low,” said Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest LGBT legal organization. “The U.S. Department of Education’s decision to withdraw guidance clarifying the rights of transgender students endangers the well-being and safety of children across the country."

“We will continue to fight for the rights and dignity of transgender youth, especially now that the Trump administration has decided to turn its back on them,” said American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project Director James Esseks.

 


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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.