Washington: The Trump administration has ended federal protections for transgender students that instructed schools to allow them to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities.
Stepping into an emotional national debate, the administration yesterday came down on the side of states' rights, lifting federal guidelines that had been issued by the Obama administration and characterised by Republicans as a legal overreach.
Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex.
"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."
In a letter to the nation's schools, the Justice and Education departments said the earlier guidance "has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms."
The agencies withdrew the guidance to "in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved." 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.
It was not clear what immediate impact the change would have on schools, as a federal judge in Texas put a temporary hold on the Obama guidance soon after it was issued after 13 states sued. Even without that hold, the guidance carried no force of law. But transgender rights advocates say it was useful and necessary to protect students from discrimination. Opponents argued it was federal overreach and violated the safety and privacy of other students.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump "has made it clear throughout the campaign that he is a firm believer in states' rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level."
Conservative activists hailed the change, saying the Obama directives were illegal and violated the rights of fixed-gender students, especially girls who did not feel safe changing clothes or using restrooms next to anatomical males.