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Feds Issue Guidance to Schools on Treatment of Transgender Students

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on May 19, 2016 6:54 AM

The Department of Education last week issued guidance to public schools on protecting the civil rights of transgender students. For schools, this is about more than just making students feel safe. Their federal funding depends on compliance with the law.

The new guidance is intended to make it clear to public school educators that transgender students cannot be discriminated against and that schools don't decide gender identity. In other words, public schools must respect the gender self-identification of students, and that applies to bathroom use too.

Homeroom News

The Department of Education's official blog, Homeroom, explains why the guidance was issued. Reportedly, educators, parents, and students around the country requested it. The National Association of Secondary School Principals this week also issued a statement calling for more information from the federal government on how to comply with anti-discrimination laws and to create an inclusive environment for transgender students.

The government gave the people what they want -- guidance. It came in the form of a letter that defines important terms and outlines the feds' expectations. Most notably, the federal government relieved school authorities of any decision-making regarding a student's gender identity. If informed by a student or the parents or guardian that a student will assert a gender identity that differs from the identity previously asserted, the school must begin treating the student consistent with the latest identity assertion.

The guidance letter provides as follows:

"As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX or its implementing regulations. The Departments treat a student's gender identity as the student's sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations. This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity."

The Takeaway

While the guidance issued by the Department of Education does not extend the law in any way, it provides much-needed clarification for students, parents, and educators. It also relieves individual communities of the need to decide how to handle transgender issues in public school settings. The problem of community conventions is eliminated and federal law dominates. Public schools that want federal funds -- and what school can afford to turn down money? -- will have to get with the government program.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are a transgender student, or the parent of one, and are concerned about discrimination at school or elsewhere, talk to a lawyer. An attorney can help you determine what legal options you have. Get help.

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