Law & Courts

Judge Blocks Guidance On Transgender Rights

By Evie Blad & Christina A. Samuels — August 30, 2016 3 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton hailed a federal judge’s order blocking, for now, Obama administration guidelines aimed at broadening transgender students’ access to restrooms and locker rooms in schools.

The national debate over transgender rights took yet another turn last week, after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Obama administration from enforcing new guidelines meant to expand students’ access to restrooms and locker rooms in schools.

In May, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice said that under Title IX, public schools must allow transgender students to use single-sex restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, for the Northern District of Texas, Wichita Division, sided with Texas and 12 other state plaintiffs in his Aug. 22 order for a temporary injunction, which bars the federal agencies from enforcing the guidance and from initiating civil rights investigations in schools until he makes final judgment on the case.

Dispute Over Rulemaking

The Texas case centers largely on whether the federal agencies followed the proper process for rulemaking. The state plaintiffs argued that, under the Administrative Procedures Act, the departments were required to provide opportunity for notice and comment before setting a rule. But the federal agencies argued that they were merely interpreting an existing regulation.

Judge O’Connor found “that the plain meaning of the term sex as used in [a regulation relating to sex-segregated school restrooms] 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” and not the gender students identify with.

O’Connor also ruled that a temporary injunction was appropriate in the multistate case, one of two that are currently before federal courts.

See Also

Education Week reporter Evie Blad appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss this significant court ruling and its effects. “Watch: A Discussion on the Latest Ruling on Transgender Students”

“The court concludes plaintiffs have established that the failure to grant an injunction will place them in the position of either maintaining their current policies in the face of the federal government’s view that they are violating the law, or changing them to comply with the guidelines and cede their authority over this issue,” O’Connor wrote.

In another case, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., took the Obama administration’s side, citing precedent and arguing that it was proper to defer to the federal interpretation of the law.

But the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the Virginia case. On Aug. 3, the justices voted 5-3 to stay lower-court orders that would have allowed Gavin Grimm, who was born female but now identifies as a male, to use the boys’ restroom at his high school in Gloucester County, Va. The high court will decide later whether to take up the merits of that case for full argument and decision.

“The department is disappointed in the court’s decision, and we are reviewing our options,” a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement in response to last week’s Texas injunction.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and organizations advocating for transgender students also responded to the Texas order.

“This president is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform,” Paxton said in a statement. “That cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we took action to protect states and school districts, who are charged under state law to establish a safe and disciplined environment conducive to student learning.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, also cheered the O’Connor ruling. Kentucky is one of the state plaintiffs that had joined Texas in its legal battle.

“It is difficult to imagine a more absurd federal overreach into a local issue,” Bevin said in a statement. “The president is not promoting unity. In fact, he is doing quite the opposite. He is intentionally dividing America by threatening to sue or withhold funding from our cash-strapped public schools if they do not agree with his personal opinion on policies that remain squarely in their jurisdiction. They should not feel compelled to bow to such intimidation.”

Several civil rights organizations that advocate on behalf of transgender students, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, called the ruling misguided and said it does not eliminate the requirement that school districts “treat transgender students fairly.”

“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination,” the groups said in a joint statement. “The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people—transgender elementary and high school students—for potential continued harassment, stigma, and abuse.”

Contributing Writer Mark Walsh provided information for this article.
A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2016 edition of Education Week as Judge Blocks Guidance On Transgender Rights

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts California COVID-19 Closures Infringed Private School Parents' Rights, Federal Court Rules
A federal appeals court holds that the state's closure rules for private schools were not narrowly tailored to serve compelling interests.
4 min read
Image shows a courtroom and gavel.
imaginima/E+
Law & Courts 'I Just Want to Play.' Judge Halts W. Va. Law Barring Transgender Girls From Girls' Sports
Ruling for an 11-year-old transgender girl, the judge holds that the law likely violates the equal-protection clause and Title IX.
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Praying Coach v. District That Suspended Him: What's Next in Fight Over Religious Expression
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to reconsider an earlier panel ruling that sided with the school district.
4 min read
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after his team lost to Centralia in Bremerton, Wash., on Oct. 16, 2015. Kennedy, who was suspended for praying at midfield after games, has filed a discrimination complaint on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission according to The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm representing the coach.
Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after a game in October 2015 when he was the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. In a long-running legal fight, Kennedy contends he has First Amendment free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion rights to express his Christian faith while on the job. The case is likely headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lindsey Wasso/The Seattle Times via AP
Law & Courts Appeals Court Again Backs Transgender Student, But on Narrower Grounds Amid Signs of Rift
A federal appeals panel removed a holding for student Drew Adams based on Title IX, perhaps to ward off a rehearing by the full court.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+