Republican President Donald Trump’s administration is revoking the federal stance on guidelines to protect transgender students’ rights in schools, according to a letter sent to public schools nationwide by the Justice Department.
The letter reverses former President Barack Obama’s landmark interpretation of law that would have withheld federal funds from schools if they forced transgender students to use bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identity. The Trump administration says they are withdrawing that guidance, leaving it up to states and local school districts.
“There must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local districts in creating educational policy,” the letter says.
Andrew Clampitt, spokesperson for Monroe County Community School Corporation in Bloomington, Ind., says the change in guidelines will not change the district’s policies. Bloomington schools will continue to operate gender neutral bathrooms in all of their facilities.
Clampitt says that respects all students – transgender or otherwise.
“All bathrooms are clearly identified as gender neutral,” Clampitt says. “Those are available to all of our students and it’s been a non-issue.”
Bloomington has had gender neutral bathrooms in school since 2015. Farther south, other schools are cautiously optimistic with federal government’s change of stance.
Dan Scherry, superintendent of North Spencer Country School Corporation, says the new stance will allow schools to uphold values they see fit.
“I think that the federal government on requiring southern Indiana to follow laws based on other states that we may not share total cultural viewpoints with, I think that’s overreach,” Scherry says. “So, yeah, it helps us as far as not being mandated to follow other people’s expectations.”
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and chair of senate committee on education, welcomes the change. Kruse says children should should go to the bathroom in facilities aligned with their biological sex, not their gender identity.
“We should keep women’s and men’s restrooms separately,” says Kruse. “If a person who is confused or switching — if they think they are a man or a woman and go back and forth — they should have to go to the restroom the way they were born.”
LGBTQ+ organizations and civil liberties advocacy groups are decrying the change.
“We’re extremely disappointed that the administration would take this action, we think it sends a horrible message students, to vulnerable young people across the country, that this administration will not protect them,” says Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU Indiana.
Schools are still barred from discriminating against students based on sex under federal law. Henegar says that if a transgender student is being treated differently than their peers by school administration – such as being forced to use a single-user bathroom – that could constitute as discrimination.
As we’ve reported, when the original guidance came down from the Obama administration, Indiana religious groups called for people to contact local school boards and government to reject it.
Then-Gov. Mike Pence said, in a statement, education should be a state and local function.
“Policies regarding the security and privacy of students in our schools should be in the hands of Hoosier parents and local schools, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC.,” Pence, said at the time. “The federal government has no business getting involved in issues of this nature.”
The U.S. Supreme Court announced in November that it plans to take a case where a transgender student was denied using bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect the stance of Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and chair of senate committee on education.