Education Department Closes Transgender Student Cases, Scales Back ‘Systemic’ Civil Rights Investigations


"It's Open Season on Transgender Students"

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights this week has closed a case in which it had determined a transgender student had suffered discrimination at school. The move follows the office's announcement that it will scale back "systemic" civil rights investigations.

"The agency communicated its decision in a letter this week to lawyers representing the girl, an elementary school student in Highland, Ohio," The Washington Post reported.

"The letter provided no reason or legal justification for withdrawing its 2016 conclusion that the girl's school wrongly barred her from the girls' bathroom and failed to address the harassment she endured from classmates and teachers, who repeatedly addressed her with male pronouns and the male name she was given at birth."

Candice Jackson, the acting head of the Office of Civil Rights, indicated that the matter would be settled in court by the student, and that officials withdrew their findings based upon the Trump administration's decision to rescind the Obama-era guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students to access bathrooms matching their gender identity.

As the newspaper pointed out, the agency also closed another long-running case involving a transgender student earlier this month. The Washington Post spoke with Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who called the moves dangerous. "They have just sent a message to schools that it's open season on transgender students."

Further explaining the office's actions, ProPublica recently published an internal memo from the Department of Education which indicates the office's intent to scale back civil rights investigations.

Gone will be the requirements that investigators "broaden their inquiries to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims," The New York Times reported. "Regional offices will no longer be required to alert department officials in Washington of all highly sensitive complaints on issues such as the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses."

The NYT further reported that "the new directives are the first steps taken under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reshape her agency's approach to civil rights enforcement, which was bolstered while President Barack Obama was in office." 

Sherrilyn Ifill, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund's president, called the move an "abdication of the Education Department's responsibility to protect the rights and dignity of our nation's vulnerable children during the most crucial years of their lives."

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Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr and a CC license

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