'Stunning and Dangerous': DeVos Memo Reveals Plan to Roll Back Civil Rights

Alvin Kelly
June 19, 2017

"The letter provided no reason or legal justification for withdrawing its 2016 conclusion that the girl's school wrongly barred her from the girls' bathroom and failed to address the harassment she endured from classmates and teachers, who repeatedly addressed her with male pronouns and the male name she was given at birth".

Advocates for transgender students fear that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is trying to ditch the burden of having to protect students against bathroom discrimination.

"It is permissible, for example, for one allegation in a complaint (such as harassment based on gender stereotypes) to go forward while another allegation (such as denial of access to restrooms based on gender identity) is dismissed", the guidance continues.

"The Trump administration's decision to revoke the guidance on Title IX and transgender students was a shameful move".

Still, the panel finds the cuts "particularly troubling in light of DeVos' repeated refusal" to promise Congress that she will "enforce federal civil rights laws"-a possible reference to DeVos' confusion over special education laws during her confirmation hearing".

"This is so unsafe", said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is representing the OH transgender student, identified only as Jane Doe, in a lawsuit against the school district.

As the newspaper pointed out, the agency also closed another long-running case involving a transgender student earlier this month.

ACLU's John Knight said there are other transgender students in Palatine who are struggling to be treated fairly and could benefit from continued federal oversight.

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The United States Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan agency charged with advising the president and Congress on civil rights matters, unanimously approved a comprehensive two-year probe into the "degree to which current budgets and staffing levels allow civil rights offices to perform" their functions within the administration, said the agency in a statement.

"They are hinting that they are not enforcing the law", said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. But it was vague about the polarizing issue of transgender students' access to bathrooms, saying that such cases could be dismissed, but stopping short of saying that such cases should be dismissed.

However, they also pointed to Trump's proposed budget, stating that "proposed cuts would result in a unsafe reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country". The new guidance, which was issued to employees last week, says officials should rely on Title IX when "evaluating complaints of sex discrimination against individuals whether or not the individual is transgender".

Lhamon said she created that designation for cases that touched on unsettled law, in an effort to standardize the responses to complaints in different parts of the country.

"These new instructions from the Department of Education are far from clear, and federal court rulings are increasingly on the side of transgender students", Esseks added, implying that the organization may pursue further lawsuits to challenge the new guidance.

The memo by Candice Jackson, the department's acting assistant secretary for civil rights, instructed staffers to end the practice of automatically designating certain types of complaints as "sensitive" or meriting more resources than others. Only six of the eight commissioners voted to express concern about the Trump administration's handling of civil rights, while two voted against it, according to a spokesman for the commission.

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the change in approach is meant to ensure that investigations are resolved more quickly. "Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice for many complainants has been denied for too long", she said.

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