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But the guidance letter also consolidates Department of Education guidance that has wide-ranging implications for transgender students in other facets of academic life. Under the Obama administration's interpretation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, schools are prohibited from publicly disclosing a transgender student's birth name or biological sex, and are required to change the gender on school records and directories when asked.


The letter is addressed to all schools that receive federal funding, including 16,500 school districts and 7,000 colleges, universities and trade schools. It also applies to charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries and museums that receive federal aid.


Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The "Dear Colleague" letter, addressed to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding, was based on the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, to include gender identity.


Last month, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Justice Department told schools across the country that Title IX of a 1972 federal education law protects transgender students from discrimination based on sex, including the use of bathrooms, locker rooms and showering facilities.


In March, Springfield Central High School in Massachusetts converted two single-user faculty bathrooms into two gender-neutral bathrooms, one each for faculty and students. Principal Thaddeus Tokarz said transgender students aren’t required to use it, though some choose to do so.
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The guidance could also have an impact on participation in sports and extracurricular activities. While schools can have sex-segregated teams, eligibility for those teams may not "rely on overly broad generalizations or stereotypes about the differences between transgender students and other students of the same sex," the guidance says.
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"As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level," the White House said in a statement. "The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators."
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A patchwork of state laws could continue to emerge as a result of the change. Fifteen states have explicit protections for transgender students in their state laws, and many individual school districts in other states have adopted policies that cover such students on the basis of their gender identity, said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. Just one state, North Carolina, has enacted a law restricting access to bathrooms in government-owned buildings to the sex that appears on a person's birth certificate. Lawmakers in more than 10 states are considering similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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And schools "may not discipline students or exclude them from participating in activities for appearing or behaving in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity or that does not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity." In yearbook photos, school dances and graduation ceremonies, for example, schools must allow students to dress and participate based on their chosen gender.
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In Texas, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick has demanded the resignation of Kent Scribner, Fort Worth’s school superintendent, over the district’s transgender-inclusive bathroom policy. Patrick also argued for its repeal, calling it “social engineering.”
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In a "dear colleague" letter to school districts first reported by the New York Times, the Department of Education maintains that requiring transgender students to use same-sex facilities violates Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex. The letter was provided to USA TODAY by two administration officials who would not discuss it publicly because it hadn't been sent.
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"When a school provides sex-segregated activities and facilities, transgender students must be allowed to participate in such activities and access such facilities consistent with their gender identity," reads the letter, signed by two Obama administration officials responsible for enforcing civil rights laws: Assistant Secretary of Education Catherine E. Lhamon, and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
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The lawsuit announced Wednesday includes Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia. It asks a North Texas federal court to declare the directive unlawful in what ranks among the most coordinated and visible legal challenges by states over the socially divisive issue of bathroom rights for transgender persons.
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The announcement is a significant victory for opponents of the Obama administration's guidelines who believe the federal government should never have gotten involved in the issue. Civil rights groups, meanwhile, decried the move as an attack on transgender children that denies them equal rights.
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In a separate letter, the deputy solicitor general informed the Supreme Court that the guidance had been withdrawn. The court is poised to consider the case of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender male who wants to use the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity.
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"Trump's actions do not change the law itself -- transgender students remain protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 -- but abandoning the guidance intentionally creates confusion about what federal law requires," Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
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The guidance doesn't have the force of law, but tells schools how the Department of Education intends to enforce Title IX in the future. And because Title IX is directly tied to federal education funding, the guidance carries an implied threat: Follow the federal guidelines or risk losing those funds.
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"This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate," the statement continued. "At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools."
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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued on behalf of several states and won a nationwide injunction barring federal agencies from taking action against the schools that resisted the guidance. The Justice Department under the Obama administration challenged the lawsuit and arguments were scheduled for early February. Then, one day after former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general, the Justice Department withdrew its challenge so the parties could decide "how to best proceed."
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"This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate," she said in a statement. "At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools."
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"This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students."
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Anti-bullying safeguards would not be affected by the change, according to the letter. "All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment," it said.
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Hernandez is in transition from female to male, and his effort was driven, in part, by his own discomfort in using the school’s existing bathrooms. He’d sometimes avoid going to the bathroom the whole day to avoid harassment.
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While the battle continues over North Carolina's HB2 bill, a related law aimed at making bathrooms open to all genders has been in effect in Washington, D.C. since 2006. Local business owners who have had to adapt see it as practical and convenient.
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"Our fight over the bathroom directive has always been about former President Obama's attempt to bypass Congress and rewrite the laws to fit his political agenda for radical social change. The Obama administration's directive on bathrooms unlawfully invaded areas that are left to state discretion under the Tenth Amendment. School policy should center on the safety, privacy and dignity of its students, not the whims federal bureaucrats."