Public schools across the country “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity” in order to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments.
That is what the United States Department of Justice is telling local school districts across the country in a notice sent out on Friday.
The letter comes after the DOJ and the state of North Carolina have filed dueling lawsuits over the state’s controversial House Bill 2, which requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom and changing facility that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity. The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also issued a ruling recently that a local school board in Virginia violated Title IX protections by forcing a transgender male student to use the female restroom and changing facility. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Thursday that the Obama administration would not withhold federal funding from North Carolina until a resolution was reached in court regarding HB2.
The notice to school districts says schools are obligated to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities “even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”
The notice also says:
“The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity.”
The letter adds “there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.”
School staff and contractors “will use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity,” according to the letter.
Schools will also be required to allow transgender students to access sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams that are consistent with the student’s gender identity.
The letter also stipulates steps that must be taken in record keeping to ensure the student’s privacy under FERPA laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement following the letter’s publication with a quote from the plaintiff in the 4th Circuit lawsuit Gavin Grimm.
“I am so happy that with this new guidance, transgender students across the country have a new tool to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect at school. This guidance would have made a big difference in my life, and I’m happy that kids will be free to use the bathroom that reflects who they are.”
Governor Pat McCrory said the “federally mandated edicts” changes “generations of gender etiquette and privacy norms which parents, children and employees have expected in the most personal and private setting of their everyday lives.” McCrory admitted in his statement “States and local governments cannot have a myriad of different laws which cause confusion and inconsistent application.” But he added, “However, the executive branch of the federal government does not have the authority to be the final arbiter.”
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said in a release, “We disagree with the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act] and Title IX.”
Moore went on to say:
“This morning, parents all across the country are waking up to find that the Obama Administration has sent every public school a letter requiring the schools to allow boys and girls to share locker rooms and restrooms. This is no longer a North Carolina issue, this is a national issue. We all have to wonder what other threats to common sense norms may come before the sun sets on the Obama Administration.”
North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest released a statement saying North Carolina public schools are bound to the law in the state – HB2 – rather than “the President’s non-binding directive.” He added, “It should be rejected as a matter of principle and policy.”
Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools superintendent Tom Forcella released the following statement regarding the letter:
“We find ourselves in a unique situation in which our Federal government has issued one order, and our State government has issued an opposite order. Our school district will do whatever is necessary to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory learning environment for all students.”
If schools are found to be out of compliance with these standards going forward, it will be interpreted as a violation of Title IX regulations, according to the letter, and the school may be subject to a loss of federal funding.
See the full letter from the DOJ here.