The Trump administration says it will investigate whether a Georgia school district’s policy allowing students to choose the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity contributed to a “hostile environment” for female students.
The question is part of a larger review of the Decatur City School District’s response to the sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl in a school bathroom.
The department said it would investigate the complaint in a Sept. 14 letter, which was circulated this week by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group that opposes special accommodations for transgender students.
Although much of the fight over the rights of transgender students has taken place at the K-12 level, the findings could also have implications for higher ed institutions. An Education Department spokesman said the policy was one of a number of factors being reviewed in the case.
“We do not comment on pending investigations -- but to be clear, the investigation focuses on the school’s response to a report of sexual assault and the examination of any and all factors that may have contributed to a hostile environment,” said Nate Bailey, the department spokesman.
The Trump administration last year rescinded 2016 federal guidance issued to ensure that transgender students in K-12 schools and colleges had access to the bathroom facilities of their choice. And in February, the Education Department acknowledged it was no longer pursuing civil rights complaints related to bathroom access.
The complaint against the Decatur school district was filed in May with the help of ADF.
“This situation was both deeply tragic and avoidable,” said ADF legal counsel Christiana Holcomb in a statement. “Schools have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of all students and Decatur Schools clearly failed this young girl. The current approach that many schools are taking of passing these transgender bathroom policies isn’t working; they fail to provide basic privacy or ensure the safety of all students.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement that every allegation of sexual assault must be taken seriously. But the group said it was concerned the department would inject politics into the investigation of the school district’s handling of the incident.
“We know that policies affirming the rights of transgender students do not increase the safety risks for any child. Any argument otherwise ignores the support for these policies from the hundreds of anti-sexual assault groups, every credible study on the topic, and the lived experiences of schools, students, and families across the country,” the group said in the statement. “Our heart breaks for anyone dealing with the trauma of sexual violence, but there is simply no basis to the notion that policies protecting transgender students contribute to that violence.”