The Trump administration has reversed an Obama-era directive that advised schools to open bathrooms and locker rooms to students based on their perceived sexual identity or risk losing federal funding.
The new ruling leaves bathroom use policies to the discretion of state governments and local school districts, but the issue is already set to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is scheduled on March 28 to hear a case from the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia challenging a lower court ruling allowing transgender teen Gavin Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom at school. Grimm, a biological female, identifies as male.
Obama’s directive, nonbinding legally but strengthened by the possibility of federal funding being rescinded under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, had already been blocked in August 2016 by a Texas federal district court.
Trump’s reversal was announced in a Feb. 22 directive sent to public schools jointly from the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education.
“There must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local districts in establishing educational policy,” the new directive reads. “The Department of Education and Department of Justice have decided to withdraw and rescind the [Obama] guidance documents in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved. The Departments thus will not rely on the view expressed within them.”
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, who lamented Obama’s 2016 order, welcomed the new directive.
“I’m very glad to see the Trump Administration revoke these guidelines. This move is good for parents and good for families,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at erlc.com. “Children are not pawns of the state to be used to advance the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause. Christians must continue to insist that the worldview of the sexual revolution harms men and women and advocate for the inherent dignity of all.”
Discrimination based on sex is still prohibited in public schools, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said as the new directive was issued.
“We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment,” DeVos said. “This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.”
DeVos echoed President Donald Trump in saying the issue is best left to state and local authorities.
“Schools, communities, and families can find – and in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students,” DeVos said.
In explaining the reversal, the Departments of Justice and Education said Obama’s directive interpreted Title IX to include discrimination based on sexual identity, not only biological sex, and lacked extensive legal analysis or any explanation of how that position “is consistent with the express language of Title IX.”
At least one state, California, might uphold the use of bathrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity instead of biological sex, a children and families advocacy group there said in a press release.
“If you believe in local control of schools, or parental rights, or the safety of girls, or in the biological fact that you’re born male or female, this is common sense good,” Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said of Trump’s reversal. “Unfortunately, because of a raft of anti-family, sexual-indoctrination laws in California, government schools here will still be unsafe, mixed-up places where biological boys can masquerade as girls in female restrooms, shower facilities and sports teams.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)