The letter, and an accompanying guidance document, outline the actions schools can take to promote “a safe and respectful learning environment” for all students, as stated in a blog post released by the U.S. Department of Education.
“Both documents show that protecting transgender students’ right to be who they are does not harm other students; instead, they show that equality for transgender students is not only required by law but achievable through common-sense approaches that foster safety and a positive learning environment for all students,” officials said.
In the new mandate, schools can't require transgender students to use bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identity, nor can transgender students be forced to use separate bathrooms if other students aren’t required to do the same.
Schools that don’t comply with the order could lose federal aid. Harford County Public Schools issued a statement Friday saying they intend to "act consistent with its commitment that all students, including transgender students, enjoy a safe and discrimination-free school environment."
The order is an interpretation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally-funded education programs and activities.
The ruling comes amid controversy over transgender rights, particularly around access to public bathrooms. North Carolina is currently in a civil rights legal battle with the Justice Department over the state’s law banning people from using public bathrooms that don’t match their biological sex.