- The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a letter earlier this month clarifying that Department investigators should continue examining transgender civil rights complaints as they have done previously, despite Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rescinding a 2016 guidance issued by the Obama administration, according to Inside Higher Ed.
- The Obama guidance stated that anti-transgender bias allegations could be investigated as a form of gender bias, enabling the ED to probe further. Critics were concerned after DeVos rescinded the guidance, seeing it as an indication the department might not fight for protections for transgender students.
- A Department spokeswoman made clear that additional clarification was offered after DeVos’ action led some to believe that investigators would no longer investigate transgender bias claims, with some cases stuck “in limbo” since the announcement. She urged investigators to continue their work.
Administrators and school leaders have been faced with continued uncertainty regarding how forcefully DeVos intends to ensure the civil rights of transgender students are protected. Even the initial cancellation of the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance in February offered mixed signals, with numerous reports indicating that DeVos opposed rescinding the order. According to the New York Times, DeVos was opposed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who supported rolling back the civil rights protections for transgender students stipulated in Obama’s guidance. President Trump reportedly agreed with Sessions.
This complicates how many educators and administrators critical of DeVos’ appointment may view her tenure. Many previously expressed dismay at her reticence to speak about whether the Education Department would take action against funding private schools that were alleged to be discriminatory towards LGBT students during a Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month. But her feelings against rescinding Obama’s transgender bias guidance and the ED’s clarification that investigators should consider pursuing claims of bias muddies the picture over whether she is seeking to weaken oversight and investigation of LGBT civil rights violations. Administrators should consider that their biggest fights may end up being with state legislatures, who have been increasingly willing to threaten withholding funding and mandating campus activity on a variety of issues in recent months.