By Joy Resmovits
Shortly after President Donald Trump's inauguration, the administration made waves by revoking President Barack Obama's guidance for transgender students.
The Obama guidelines required schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms according to their stated gender identity, or provide them with private facilities.
At the time, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that such students do receive civil rights protections, and that her office would be releasing an update on how they could be implemented.
Those new guidelines were made public on Friday, and are dated June 6. The letter, written by acting assistant secretary for civil rights Candice Jackson, said officers should use court decisions and these guidelines in assessing gender discrimination, whether or not students identify as transgender. Advocates have major questions about what the guidelines mean in practice.
The memo lists specific instances where officers could have specific jurisdiction, such as failure to use a student's preferred pronoun or a school or district's failure to fix an environment that is hostile toward transgender students. Investigations into transgender students being denied the right to use the bathrooms of their choice is not on that list _ and the memo states that based on jurisdiction, some complaints might go forward while others, involving bathrooms, might be dismissed.
According to HuffPost, an employee familiar with the guidance interpreted it as a return to the policies of the Bush administration, which did not explicitly emphasize one set of concerns over another.
In a statement, Jackson said some cases were left in limbo by the administration's revocation. "It was very important to the Secretary that our investigators not make the mistake of assuming that just because this particular guidance has been rescinded that all complaints by transgender students are going to be dismissed by OCR," she said. She added that investigators should "individually examine every complaint."
The Obama guidance had been questioned in court, and a Texas judge blocked its implementation. In light of the Trump administration's revocation of the Obama guidelines, the U.S. Supreme Court in March vacated a case in which a transgender student in Virginia sought the right to use the boys' bathroom.
Catherine Lhamon, who wrote Obama's transgender rules, says the new letter is "dangerous" for transgender students because it provides language for officers to dismiss cases before they even investigate them. "It says you have jurisdiction over sex discrimination and sex stereotyping, but here's how you could dismiss it," she said. "They can't have it both ways."
She added that she has heard about bathroom-access cases that have been filed and closed without an investigation since the June letter was issued.
Former OCR deputy assistant secretary Dianne Piche said the letter is confusing. "If the regional offices no longer need to check in with headquarters, and are given the OK to process cases as they see fit, we will easily end up with inconsistent outcomes among similar cases across the country," she said.
Similarly, Eliza Byard, executive director of the LGBT group GLSEN, criticized the letter for lacking clarity. She called on OCR "to specify whether they will defend trans students' access to safe and appropriate school facilities – regardless of where the student lives or what local protections may or may not exist."
(c)2017 Los Angeles Times