The US Department of Education issued guidance further confirming that schools must respect a student’s gender identity in matters such as taking single-sex classes. As in previous federal guidance, transgender students were addressed as part of a larger document dealing with a specific issue – in this case, when and how K-12 school may offer single-sex classes.
Consistent with prior actions by the Department, the guidance states:
“Under Title IX, a recipient [of federal funds, which includes most schools] generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of single-sex classes.”
Other federal agencies have reached similar interpretations of nondiscrimination laws. For example, the Office of Special Counsel recently concluded that denying a federal worker access to workplace restrooms based on her gender identity likely constituted illegal sex discrimination. The Justice Department has also advised domestic violence shelters and other programs funded under the Violence Against Woman Act that they must provide access to services consistent with an individual’s gender identity.
Under Title IX, schools may offer single-sex classes (aside from certain topics such as contact sports) if they serve an important educational need, are completely voluntary, are provided in an even-handed manner, and provide substantially equal educational opportunity to all. Today’s guidance fleshed out those requirements, for example by requiring that schools point to evidence that single-sex classes serve an important need and are not simply based on board sex stereotypes; and clarifying that schools may not steer students into single-sex classes through counseling or other means. Where single-sex classes are offered, trans students must be permitted to enroll in classes consistent with their gender identity. While the guidance deals only with single-sex classes, the same principle should apply to other aspects of school life.
NCTE encourages students, families, and educators to use this guidance and past settlements in favor of trans students to advocate with local school districts for policies that secure equal opportunity for all.