The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice are cautioning school districts, and as an extension student transporters, that they must adhere to Title IX rules that prohibit discrimination based on gender when students identify as a different sex from the one they were assigned at birth.
Issues involving transgender students have been hot topics in the news of late, prompting the May 13 "Dear Colleague" letter from Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the DOE, and Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at DOJ. The letter seeks to clarify several points that districts are required to address in ensuring students are not discriminated against on school property, including on the school bus, and is related to a new emerging practices for supporting transgender students that was also published this month.
In addition to providing a “safe and nondiscriminatory environment” for transgender students that is free of harassment and bullying, the letter states that school staff must “treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their education records or identification documents indicate a different sex.” This includes addressing transgender students with proper names and pronouns that reflect the student’s wishes and gender identity, per a Resolution Agreement arising from an OCR case in North Carolina last August.
School districts also have an obligation under FERPA to protect the disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records to school personnel or others in the community who do not have a “legitimate educational interest” in the transgender student. Schools must also strive to protect any invasion of the transgender student’s privacy when publishing any school directory containing student name, address and other personal information.
OCR and DOJ also said that schools must consider the request of an eligible student or parent to amend information in the student’s records to make them consistent with the student’s gender identity.