By Thomas Ballard
I have always believed that the field of education should advocate for future generations. It should not just teach algebra and geography — it should incorporate the importance of social inclusion. It is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that all students have access to a quality education in an environment that is both welcoming and productive.
The Department of Education’s Feb. 12 decision to no longer investigate civil rights complaints from transgender students prohibited from school bathrooms that match their gender identity is not just deeply concerning — it’s unacceptable.
This is not the first step the department has taken to rollback protections of transgender students. Last February, The Trump administration revoked federal guidelines that stated transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity, according to The Washington Post.
After this decision, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice signed off on a letter to public schools regarding its decision to rescind the protections granted under the Obama administration. The department justified the action by stating that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects against discrimination on the basis of sex, did not apply to gender identity.
The letter goes on to state that this action did not “leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment,” and promised that the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights will continue to hear all claims of discrimination.
A year later, another promise has been broken and the Department of Education continues to disregard fundamental protections for all students. This recent addition to the litany of wrongs committed by the department is especially troubling. Not only has it taken away support for transgender students, it has taken away their rights to be heard and to simply have their claims of discrimination be investigated.
By stating that it is the job of Congress or the courts to determine whether or not gender identity is included under the guidelines set forth in Title IX, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department forfeit their responsibility to ensure that our schools provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students.
While the administration contends that this action does not promote discrimination, bullying or harassment toward students because of their gender identity, there is no way that I can see that being the case in actuality. By taking away these students’ right to bring about their concerns to the department, whose mission is to foster “educational excellence and ensuring equal access,” the administration invalidates their own claims of valuing equal access to education.
Inclusion of transgender students’ becomes dependent on whether or not state or local school boards wish to afford them that support.
The Trump administration tells transgender students, who only seek to be the person that they see themselves as, that being who they are is not a right, but a privilege — something that can be confiscated with little, if any, notice. By taking away their right to report these instances, the administration is saying that this issue is a local matter, and not a civil right. Acceptance in a school should not depend on a zip code.
If the Department of Education is committed to providing school environments where all students can strive for educational excellence, it must first ensure all students that they will be accepted in an educational environment. The actions taken over the past year by the administration dismantles, rather than reaffirms, this goal. DeVos and her department must reconsider their actions to ensure that all students can become their best selves while attending American public schools.
“Transgender rights deal with gender discrimination, just in a different sense.”
“Transgender people have the same right to be protected from gender discrimination.”