These transgender students hoped the Department of Education would help them. Instead, they were rejected.
At least three school districts around the country are continuing to enforce potentially hostile restroom policies for transgender students after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights refused to investigate student complaints, HuffPost has learned.
One of those students, 18-year-old Preston Curts, a transgender male senior at a high school in Florida, originally filed a discrimination claim back in 2016, under the Obama administration. He filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department challenging Marion County Schools’ rule that banned transgender students from using the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity. He hoped things would change, at least before he graduated.
In December, Curts’ complaint was abruptly dismissed by the Trump administration, quashing any possibility that he will get to spend his last few months of school in an environment where he’s allowed to be himself.
In January, HuffPost broke the news that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights was refusing to investigate these types of complaints. A month later, the Trump administration publicly discussed the protocol shift.
HuffPost has learned exclusive details about the students who are being left behind in the wake of this policy change.
There are at least four bathroom-related cases throughout the country, including Curts’, that have been dismissed by the Trump administration amid this policy change. In response to these claims ― which deal with school districts in Hawaii, Michigan, Texas and Florida ― the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) specifically told the complainant that the agency was no longer obligated to investigate instances of bathroom discrimination involving transgender students. The Trump administration contends that the federal education law dealing with sex discrimination does not cover gender identity.
In at least three of these districts, there continues to be either an explicit policy banning transgender students from specific facilities or a vague procedure that doesn’t necessarily give transgender students’ access to the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.
Now that the Trump administration has abandoned this issue, some students are stuck in hostile schools with little hope for change.
“It’s almost like effort going to nothing,” Curts told HuffPost of his previous legal action.
Curts’ complaint ― which was filed on his behalf by the Florida branch of the ACLU ― was submitted in May 2016, in the same week that the Obama administration released guidance calling on schools to give students access to facilities based on their gender identity. For Curts, who is being identified publicly for the first time, it seemed like progress was on the horizon.
Then, a few months later, Trump happened.
Curts had already been using male restrooms in school since he was 13, before a local parent found out about it in 2016 and pushed the school administration to take action. The issue turned into an acrimonious public debate. Curts would slip into Marion County School Board meetings and listen to the adults in the room discuss his private restroom habits, speculating how violating it would be for students to potentially face him in such an intimate space. Curts “passed” for male, and many didn’t know at the time that the so-called threat they were discussing was sitting among them.
The whole scenario was almost funny, in an excruciating sort of way, Curts recalled. “This huge thing unraveled before me,” Curts said, of the school board’s decision to adopt an anti-transgender resolution on the issue.