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DeVos Is Giving Congress the Silent Treatment on Questions Regarding Nondiscrimination Protections for Transgender Students

Betsy Devos
Betsy Devos
Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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March 29, 2017

Following the Trump administration’s shameful decision last month to rescind guidance explaining the rights and protections of transgender students in schools, Democratic Senator Patty Murray from Washington and other members of the education committee sent Sec. DeVos 11 detailed questions.

The questions seek clarity regarding how the Department of Education intends to enforce civil rights laws including Title IX, the impact of revoking the guidance on students and schools, and how the decision was made. Title IX is a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal funding, including all of our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

Secretary DeVos has not yet responded to lingering questions, including:

  • How is the learning environment for transgender students made safer by revoking the guidance?
  • Are states and localities free to choose whether to comply with federal civil rights laws?
  • Did the Education Department consult with any advocates or transgender people before revoking the guidance?

Senators gave Sec. DeVos until March 24 to respond in writing to their questions. The deadline has now come and gone, and no answers have been provided.

In withdrawing this important guidance document, the Trump administration sent a terrible message to some of the most vulnerable young people in the country. That Secretary DeVos now refuses to explain in detail how the Department of Education intends to protect the civil rights of transgender students is unacceptable.

What’s the holdup, Secretary DeVos? Are you not prepared to state clearly that trans students are protected under Title IX? Because they are. Do you not understand how this critically important civil rights law protects trans students? Because it does. Is congressional oversight something you think you are free to simply ignore? Because you aren’t.

Answers or not, the reality remains that this administration does not have the authority to undo legal protections for transgender students. Trans students are protected by the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, and school districts across the country must still comply with the law.

Sometimes DeVos says the right things even if her administration’s actions tell a different tale. “I consider protecting all students, including LGBT students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America,” she said in a statement rolling back the Title IX guidance for trans students. “We owe all students a commitment to ensure they have access to a learning environment that is free of discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

But actions and answers speak louder than silence. The ACLU remains deeply committed to the fight for trans equality, and we will continue our work to safeguard the dignity and rights of trans students.

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