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The Education Department Says It Won't Act On Transgender Student Bathroom Access

Transgender high school student Gavin Grimm's case in Virginia was about bathroom access. The Department of Education just announced it won't investigate similar claims.
Steve Helber
/
AP
Transgender high school student Gavin Grimm's case in Virginia was about bathroom access. The Department of Education just announced it won't investigate similar claims.

Do transgender boys or girls have the right to use the restroom at school that corresponds with their gender identity? The U.S. Education Department said Monday that it won't hear complaints about or take action on this question.

Almost one year ago, the department under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made national headlines by rolling back Obama-era steps on transgender student protections. While the Trump administration rescinded that guidance, the department never made clear how it would handle future discrimination cases filed by transgender students.

Last month, the Huffington Post reported that the Education Department had recently dismissed several such cases.

And on Monday, BuzzFeed reported and department spokeswoman Liz Hill confirmed to NPR that the department is taking that rollback a step further.

"Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity," Hill stated. (The Obama-era guidance declared the opposite, stating that the civil rights law covered student gender identity as well as sex.)

Hill went on to say that complaints about harassing, bullying or punishing transgender or gender nonconforming students would fall under Title IX: "Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX."

But, she said, access to accommodations such as restrooms, or presumably locker rooms, would not: "In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX."

"The facts now on the table are devastating, though by now unsurprising," Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, an organization that supports LGBTQ students, said in a statement. She added that the "cruel new policy flies in the face of the highest court rulings on this issue, which found unequivocally that denying transgender students appropriate bathroom access is a violation of Title IX. "

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.
Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.