Last week’s settlement between the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and a California school district may have been issued at the K-12 level, but the newly clear message that federal laws prohibit discrimination based on gender identity applies to colleges too, experts say.
Inside Higher Ed reports that “The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education jointly determined that California’s Arcadia School District violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination, by barring a transgender student from sex-specific facilities and activities. All schools and colleges receiving federal funds are obligated to comply with Title IX or risk losing that funding.
“In a 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter, OCR said schools must work to prevent gender nonconformity discrimination — when, for example, a student who is assigned a male sex at birth but does not act as a stereotypical boy (maybe by using female pronouns, or wearing dresses) is bullied.
“But this resolution agreement takes that a step further by covering gender identity discrimination — when the same student described above is barred from using the female restroom. She is not being excluded because she doesn’t act like a stereotypical boy and is therefore nonconforming, but because she has a transgender gender identity; her identity doesn’t match the sex she was assigned at birth.
“The settlement is also a first in that it deals with access to educational programs, facilities and activities — which is really what Title IX is all about — whereas the 2010 letter related more to school climate, harassment and bullying. The issue is not hypothetical; colleges report that they are enrolling more transgender students who are requesting various services and policies — anti-bias rules, access to bathrooms, ability to join athletic teams — and at some institutions, they haven’t been satisfied with the response.”