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Trump Administration Rescinds Bathroom Rules for Transgender Students

President Trump rescinded the federal guidance that allowed transgender students to use locker rooms and bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity. In a joint letter, the Justice and Education departments argued that the Obama administration's guidance did not provide sufficient grounds for claiming that transgender students were a protected class "on the basis of sex" under Title IX. 

The letter also criticized the Obama administration for overstepping its authority in issuing such a guidance, arguing that "there must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy."

Vanita Gupta, who was the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General during the Obama administration and chief architect of the guidance, discussed what rescinding the guidance could mean for transgender students. Gupta told NPR's Morning Edition that even though the guidance can be retracted, the federal law protecting transgender students cannot be changed.

She argued that legal precedent supports the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX. According to Gupta, the Supreme Court "in prior decisions [indicated] that sex discrimination can include discrimination because of sex stereotypes and other aspects of gender." 

The Obama administration felt the need to put out the guidance after hearing from parents of transgender students who were concerned about their children's safety and well-being. Gupta added that the administration had received requests from parents, administrators, school associations, and teachers who were asking for clarification about legal requirements. 

Apparently, not everyone in the Trump administration agreed with the decision to rescind the guidance. The New York Times reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos "initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students". According to the Times, DeVos eventually changed her stance after being "faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president."

DeVos released a statement to reassure LGBTQ students that they would be protected from discrimination despite the guidance being withdrawn. "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," her statement reads.

The president has expressed a wavering commitment regarding whether transgender individuals should be allowed to use facilities corresponding to their gender identification. During a Today Show appearance last April, he said that transgender people should be free to "use the bathroom they feel is appropriate." However, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this week that Trump "has maintained for a long time that this is a states' rights issue and not one for the federal government."

The withdrawal of the guidance and the interpretative disputes over Title IX make it exceedingly difficult to determine what legal protections will be afforded to transgender students going forward.

Article by Navindra Persaud, Education World Contributor, and Richard Conklin, Education World Editor.


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