Obama Admin to Public Schools: You Have to Let Transgender Students Use Whichever Bathroom They Want

Leah Barkoukis
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Posted: May 13, 2016 7:15 AM
Obama Admin to Public Schools: You Have to Let Transgender Students Use Whichever Bathroom They Want

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory was right: the controversy over the state’s new public bathroom law would not just remain a North Carolina issue, but would soon impact every state in the nation that accepts federal funding for universities.

Days after his prediction, the Obama administration has announced it is sending a letter to every public school district in the U.S. informing them that they must allow transgender students to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity—in other words, not what’s necessarily on their birth certificate.

The letter, which is signed by officials at the Justice Department and the Department of Education, will be sent out to the districts on Friday. 

While the letter does not have the force of law, it does warn that schools that do not abide by the administration’s interpretation of civil rights law may face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid. […]

Officials say the letter is meant to clarify expectations of school districts that receive funding from the federal government. Educators have been seeking guidance on how to comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding, Education Secretary John B. King said in a statement.

"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

Education Secretary John B. King echoed her remarks in a separate statement.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” King said. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

Under the guidance, schools are told that they must treat transgender students according to their chosen gender identity as soon as a parent or guardian notifies the district that that identity "differs from previous representations or records." There is no obligation for a student to present a specific medical diagnosis or identification documents that reflect his or her gender identity, and equal access must be given to transgender students even in instances when it makes others uncomfortable, according to the directive.

"As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others' discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students," the guidance says.

The administration is also releasing a separate 25-page document of questions and answers about best practices, including ways schools can make transgender students comfortable in the classroom and protect the privacy rights of all students in restrooms or locker rooms.

While LGBT activists like the Human Rights Campaign hailed the administration’s move as “groundbreaking,” this issue seems far from being settled.