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Bonamici Leads Effort to Call on DeVos to Reinstate Protections for Transgender Students; Joined by 44 Colleagues

May 13, 2019
Press Release

 

WASHINGTON, DC [05/13/19] Today Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Chair of the Education Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services, led 44 of her colleagues in calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reinstate protections for transgender students.

 

The letter follows an admission from DeVos that she knew transgender students would be put at risk when she rolled back Obama-era guidance designed to protect them. DeVos made the admission when Bonamici questioned her during an Education & Labor hearing.

 

Bonamici and her colleagues expressed deep concern about DeVos’ answers during the hearing. They noted that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that transgender students are subjected to considerably higher rates of victimization and attempted suicide than cisgender students.

 

“As the U.S. Secretary of Education, your job is to protect the rights of all students,” the Members wrote. “In light of your admission that you are aware of the ongoing discrimination of transgender youth, we urge you to commit to using Title IX to protect these students. Specifically, we respectfully request that the Department reinstate the May 2016 Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students.”

 

The letter continues: “The Department must do all it can to make sure that all schools create safe environments where students can learn free from harassment and discrimination. Students and families need and deserve to know that they can count on you and the Department to protect their civil rights.”

 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

 

In addition to Bonamici, the letter was signed by: Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chris Pappas, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Susan Wild, Jennifer Wexton. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Jan Schakowsky, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Peter A. DeFazio, Ed Case, Suzan K. DelBene, Alan Lowenthal, Jamie Raskin, Jahana Hayes, Ilhan Omar, Tom Malinowski, Adriano Espaillat, Earl Blumenauer, Mike Quigley, Elissa Slotkin, Susie Lee, Darren Soto, Madeleine Dean, Eliot L. Engel, Ruben Gallego, Joseph P. Kennedy III, Ann McLane Kuster, Raúl M. Grijalva, Angie Craig, Ro Khanna, Alcee L. Hastings, Frank Pallone, Jr., Mark DeSaulnier, Deb Haaland, Linda T. Sánchez, Peter Welch, Sharice Davids, Jackie Speier, Mark Takano, Albio Sires, A. Donald McEachin, Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal, and Mary Gay Scanlon.

 

The Congresswoman has long been a vocal advocate for diversity and equity in education. She has been critical of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos’ attempts to roll back school discipline guidance and failure to act in the best interest of students.

 

 

May 13, 2019

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary

United States Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

 

We write today to express deep concern about your answers during the Education and Labor Committee’s hearing on April 10th, 2019, and your admission that you were aware of the potential harm to transgender students when the Department of Education (“Department”) rescinded guidance protecting these students.

 

Transgender students are frequently bullied and victimized. A recent study by the CDC confirmed that transgender students are subjected to considerably higher rates of victimization than cisgender students. According to this study, 27 percent of transgender students felt unsafe at or traveling to or from school and 24 percent reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school. This in-school harassment, in addition to a multitude of other stressors, has led 35 percent of transgender students to attempt suicide. A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics also revealed alarming levels of attempted suicide among transgender youth.

 

Given what we know about the harassment and discrimination of transgender youth in schools, we were pleased to see that, under the Obama Administration, the Department issued a May 2016 Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students discussing how Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its implementing regulations “prohibit discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.”[1] In doing so, the Department emphasized the role that schools must play in creating a safe learning environment and protecting the civil rights of these students. This guidance was applauded by education and health care experts because it made students safer and provided school districts across the country with clarity about what their obligations to transgender students were under Title IX.

 

Despite this, in one of your earliest acts as Secretary, the Department issued a Dear Colleague notifying schools of the rescission of this guidance.[2] This was a clear signal to students, parents, and advocates: The U.S. Department of Education will allow recipients of federal funds to discriminate against transgender students. Moreover, though the text of the rescission states that the Department will “continue to hear all claims of discrimination,” this is false as the rescission explicitly and unnecessarily cedes the Department’s jurisdiction over claims of discrimination based on gender identity.

 

When questioned about this decision before the House Committee on Education and Labor on April 10, 2019, you admitted that you were aware when you rescinded this guidance that the stress of harassment and discrimination could lead to lower attendance and grades as well as depression for transgender students.

 

As the U.S. Secretary of Education, your job is to protect the rights of all students. In light of your admission that you are aware of the ongoing discrimination of transgender youth, we urge you to commit to using Title IX to protect these students. Specifically, we respectfully request that the Department reinstate the May 2016 Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students.

 

The Department must do all it can to make sure that all schools create safe environments where students can learn free from harassment and discrimination. Students and families need and deserve to know that they can count on you and the Department to protect their civil rights.

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

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