Secretary of Education John King (Photo: U.S. Department of Education).
Amid ongoing fights over transgender rights, the Obama administration has released guidance to ensure that transgender students are treated fairly and equally, in accordance with their gender identity.
The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice have sent a letter to school districts outlining the principles that administrators and teachers are expected to abide by to ensure that transgender students are comfortable and safe. Its release comes amid growing calls from educators, parents and school boards, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals, for guidelines outlining best practices for meeting transgender students’ needs.
Most notably, the Obama administration makes clear that transgender students are to be allowed access to locker rooms and restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. A school can’t force transgender students to use only those facilities designated for their biological sex at birth, or limit them to single-stall/unisex facilities, but may make such facilities available for the general student population.
According to the Education and Justice Departments, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 allows schools to have sex-segregated athletics teams based upon competitive skill or in contact sports, but may not adhere to requirements relying on overly broad generalizations or stereotypes of gender.
Schools must also treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity regarding the use of personal pronouns and names for the purposes of identification documents or educational records.
In rare instances when schools offer single-sex classes, or extracurricular activities, they must allow transgender students to participate based on their gender identity, and must apply the same principles when it comes to housing or overnight accommodations.
Title IX does not prohibit private schools or undergraduate colleges, or private organizations like fraternities and sororities from setting their own admission or membership policies based on sex or gender identity. However, private educational institutions or organizations can opt to admit transgender students according to their gender identity if they so wish.
“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” John King, the Secretary of Education, said in a statement. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”
The guidance is likely to have far-reaching implications, as opponents of LGBT rights will likely try and halt the Obama administration from enforcing the provisions contained in it. There is no binding nationwide legal precedent determining whether Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination apply to transgender or other gender-nonconforming students, but several lawsuits are hoping to resolve that question in the coming months.
In one case, Virginia transgender high school student Gavin Grimm is suing his local school board over its bathroom policy requiring him to use only an “alternative, private facility,” while several special interest groups, as well as the state of North Carolina and the Department of Justice are lodging dueling lawsuits over North Carolina’s HB 2 law restricting transgender restroom access, and whether it violates Title IX and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.