On Friday morning, the Obama administration issued a “Dear Colleagues” letter to the nation’s school districts spelling out what they can do to safeguard the civil rights of students at K-12 schools and colleges, based on their gender identity.
The administration argues that Title IX, which outlaws sex discrimination for any school receiving federal funding, covers gender identity.
The letter does not change any existing laws, but provides what is called “significant guidance.” It explains exactly what policies the Education and Justice departments consider to be compliant with Title IX.
“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 E. Lynch said in a statement. “This guidance gives administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”
In addition to the letter, the Education Department issued a pamphlet giving examples of “emerging practices” and policies to support transgender students in states around the country.
The move has widely been seen as intensifying the ongoing confrontation between the federal government and the state of North Carolina, which has passed a law restricting transgender people’s access to bathrooms.
Here’s what the letter says schools should do:
- When a student, parent or guardian informs a school of a student’s gender identity, treat that student consistent with that identity.
- Do not require a doctor’s note or diagnosis.
- Do not require official documentation of a gender transition.
- Work to prevent harassment of students based on gender identity.
- Provide equal access to all educational programs and activities, regardless of any objections raised by other parents, students or community members.
- Provide transgender students with the right to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. They shouldn’t be the only ones forced to use single-person facilities if no one else is being compelled to do that. However, single-person facilities can be provided to anyone who wants privacy.
- Transgender boys have the right to go out for the football team and transgender girls should be able to try out for the cheerleading squad.
- Allow anyone to go to prom in a tux, or pose for yearbook photos in a dress. Allow anyone to attend his or her graduation ceremony in high heels. These freedoms should apply to all students, not just those officially declared transgender.
- Require that school staff and contractors agree to use a student’s preferred name and pronoun.
- Recognize that a student’s birth name and sex as they appear in school records are considered personally identifiable information, which is protected under FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). That means they can’t be shared, without the student and family’s consent, with anyone who doesn’t have a legitimate educational interest in the information.
- Consider families’ and students’ requests to amend school records to reflect a student’s preferred gender identity.