Education and Justice Department officials have sided with a transgender student who faced discrimination in middle school in determining school districts cannot discriminate against students on the basis of gender identity.
In a settlement agreement released yesterday, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division determined the Arcadia School District in California must revise policies in order to ensure transgender students are treated equally, including equal access to school activities and programs.
According to the agreement, the school district must "ensure that its policies, procedures, and regulations applicable to or governing student participation in all programs and activities offered by the District provide all students, including transgender students and other students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, equal access to and equal opportunity to participate in all such programs and activities in a manner that does not discriminate based on sex."
"School districts are responsible for providing students with a nondiscriminatory educational environment," wrote Education and Justice Department officials in a July 24 letter.
Under Title IX, "[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Under the Title IX regulations, a school district may not treat individuals differently on the basis of sex with regard to any aspect of services, benefits, or opportunities it provides. 34 C.F.R. §§ 106.31(a)-(b). All students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX and Title IV.
According to the original complaint, filed in 2011, the student, who is a transgender boy, was denied access to sex-specific facilities designated for male students at school for use during school and extracurricular activities. Further, during an overnight field trip he was denied access to sleeping quarters for male students.
"We commend the federal government for taking this necessary step to ensure that schools are safe and supportive environments where all students can thrive, including transgender students," said attorney Asaf Orr, of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented the student, in a statement. "Federal law obligates school districts to affirm and respect a transgender student’s gender identity in all of their programs, activities, and facilities. Treating transgender students based on their assigned sex at birth is psychologically harmful and interferes with their healthy social development. Hopefully, school districts will take this opportunity to proactively address the needs of transgender youth through district-wide policies and training."
[Photo: Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Department of Education]