Texas judge blocks federal guidelines on transgender students and bathroom access

Aug. 23, 2016
Federal policy guidelines issued earlier this year asserted a students' rights to use restrooms consistent with their gender identities.

A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, has temporarily blocked U.S. Department of Education guidelines directing the nation’s public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.

The Texas Tribune reports that U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor's preliminary injunction sides with Texas and 12 other states that have challenged the federal directive. He concluded that the Obama administration didn’t follow proper rule-making procedure in crafting the guidelines.

O'Connor rejected the federal government's assertion that the definition of "sex" in Title IX regulations was ambiguous. The government had argued that the ambiguity of the regulations gave it leeway to clarify the definition in revised guidelines. The new guidance stated that students had a right to use restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identities.

"It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex as used in [regulations] when it was enacted by DOE following passage of Title IX meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth," Judge O'Connor wrote in his 38-page opinion.

Texas challenged the guidelines after they were issued earlier this year by the departments of Education and Justice. The regulations stated that discrimination against transgender individuals violates federal nondiscrimination statutes, including the Title IX prohibition on discrimination based on sex at educational institutions.

Those protections, the administration said, give transgender students the right to use their preferred bathrooms in public school and require schools to treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX compliance.

Advocates for transgender students contend that the preliminary injunction denies protections to students and puts them at risk.

“Judge O’Connor’s decision to bar the Department of Justice from enforcing this important guidance puts thousands of transgender students at even greater risk of marginalization, harassment, and discrimination as they return to school this fall,” says Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “All students, regardless of their gender identity, deserve to be able to learn in an environment free from discrimination."

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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