DOJ, Dept. of Education release guidance on transgender student issues

The directive is not law, though federal officials believe bathroom rights falls under Title IX


WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBN) – The White House is ordering every public school in the country to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their current gender identity, or they may lose federal funding.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance Friday on the controversial bathroom laws and other issues that may affect transgender students.

Recently, questions have arisen from school districts, colleges and universities about transgender students and how they and non-transgender students can interact in a safe and discrimination-free learning environment.

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against North Carolina over its new state law requiring students to use the bathroom of their gender at birth. North Carolina filed its own lawsuit against the DOJ in response.

The Departments of Education and Justice said under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status.

When asked about the recent guidelines, local superintendents say their students are more accepting than those in the past.

“I think kids are more tolerant now. The world’s a big place with a lot of different people in it, whereas if you just grow up in a small community in the Mahoning Valley… they’re sometimes not as open and tolerant as other places in the world,” said Austintown Local Schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca.

The guidance says when students or their parents notify a school that a student is transgender, the school must treat the student consistent with the student’s gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment or produce a birth certificate or other identification document before treating them consistent with their gender identity.

The guidance also explains schools’ obligations to:

  • Respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students, including harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived gender identity, transgender status or gender transition;
  • Treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents indicate a different sex;
  • Allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity; and
  • Protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status under Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The guidance does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces, when, for example, there are other appropriate options available; and schools can also take steps to increase privacy within shared facilities.

Colaluca said he hasn’t encountered an issue with bathroom usage at Austintown Schools.

“We’re pretty lucky in Austintown, because we have restrooms with family restrooms in them, and we gave that as an option. A lot of students have chosen that option,” he said.

Springfield Local Schools Superintendent Tom Yazvac said the elementary schools also have family restrooms, but not all local school districts have a unisex bathroom option.

Now, superintendents are trying to figure out if they need specific anti-discrimination policies. In some ways, this isn’t a new challenge.

“Many years ago, a female on our wrestling team, we had to accommodate a locker room space for her, because we didn’t have a male-female locker room in that area we were at,” Colaluca said.

With the issue going to statehouses and courtrooms, superintendents are watching closely before they make any permanent policies.

“Whether or not we convert some of our restroom facilities right now to a more unisex-type bathroom with more individuals stalls, I would see that coming in the future. I don’t know how soon in the future, but that will be left up to the courts,” said Yazvac.

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