Education Dept. closes transgender student cases as it pushes to scale back civil rights investigations – Washington Post

 In U.S.
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights this week closed a long-running discrimination case involving a transgender student and withdrew its earlier findings that the girl had suffered discrimination at school, a move that comes amid the Trump administration’s push to scale back civil rights investigations in public schools.

The agency communicated its decision in a letter this week to lawyers representing the girl, an elementary school student in Highland, Ohio. The letter provided no reason or legal justification for withdrawing its 2016 conclusion that the girl’s school wrongly barred her from the girls’ bathroom and failed to address the harassment she endured from classmates and teachers, who repeatedly addressed her with male pronouns and the male name she was given at birth.

Candice Jackson, acting head of the civil rights office, said the department closed the case because the student has filed a legal challenge against the school district, and the matter will be settled in court.

Officials withdrew the findings of discrimination, Jackson said, because those findings were based on guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students access to bathrooms matching their gender identity. The Trump administration rescinded that guidance in February.

Civil rights advocates see the closure of the Ohio case — and especially the unusual withdrawal of federal investigators’ legal conclusion — as a troubling sign of retreat from civil rights enforcement.

(Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

“This is so dangerous,” said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is representing the Ohio student, identified only as Jane Doe, in a lawsuit against the school district. “They have just sent a message to schools that it’s open season on transgender students.”

The agency also this month closed a different long-running case involving a transgender student’s complaint about locker room access in Palatine, Ill., according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the student in that case. Issues from that case are also now before the courts, and the student who brought the complaint has graduated.

The ACLU’s John Knight said there are other transgender students in Palatine who are struggling to be treated fairly and could benefit from continued federal oversight.

The Education Department cautioned against construing the closure of the cases as any statement about the Trump administration’s view of or approach to transgender students’ rights.

The previously unreported moves came just days after the Education Department issued an internal memo describing how to handle transgender students’ civil rights complaints given the rescission of the guidance on school bathrooms. Education officials said they wanted to emphasize that transgender students may still have valid discrimination complaints despite the rescission of that guidance.

The memo said officials should continue to investigate complaints about bullying and harassment. But it was vague about the polarizing issue of transgender students’ access to bathrooms, saying that such cases could be dismissed but stopping short of saying that such cases should be dismissed.

Catherine Lhamon, who helmed the Education Department’s civil rights office when it reached its conclusion in the Ohio case, said she worries that the case closures show that the memo should be understood as a sign that the Trump administration does not intend to investigate bathroom-access complaints.

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