The Trump administration on Wednesday issued new guidelines rolling back an Obama administration policy that was designed to reduce anti-transgender discrimination in public schools.
The Department of Justice and Department of Education told public schools that officials “have decided to withdraw and rescind the…guidance documents in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved. The Departments thus will not rely on the views expressed within them.”
“Please note that this withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment,” the agencies said in a dear-colleague letter.
The Obama-era policy said transgender students must be allowed access to gender-appropriate restrooms.
Still, a fight broke out between factions of the Trump administration, when US Attorney Jeff Sessions pressed to reverse the guidance and ran up against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, according to a New York Times report on Wednesday.
Both of their agencies, the Justice Department and Education Department, which issued the guidance last year, had to concur on any replacement rules. Citing three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions as sources, the Times said Trump sided with Sessions after a meeting in the Oval Office, leading DeVos to capitulate.
States and local school districts can still adopt their own transgender-inclusive rules.
At a White House Press briefing, however, Spicer played down those fractures Wednesday afternoon, noting that “there’s no daylight between anybody between the president, between any of the secretaries,” and he said DeVos was on board “100%.” While officials considered legal and procedural issues, he added, “where you might be hearing something” are disagreements related to to timing and wording of the new guidance.
Spokespeople for the agencies did not respond to inquires about the new policy on Wednesday.
Overriding the old guidelines will likely have little short-term impact on schools — the old policy was suspended by a federal court last summer. Most immediately, the move could neutralize lawsuits from more than a dozen states that had challenged the rules and it could be a factor in a case scheduled before the Supreme Court next month.
The new guidance was submitted to the Supreme Court on Wednesday night as an attachment to a letter announcing the move in that case.
In a statement, Education Secretary Devos said she considers “protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.” She added, however, that protecting transgender students “is an issue best solved at the state and local level.”