In the wake of North Carolina’s recent controversial restroom law, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled this week that the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits gender discrimination in public schools. North Carolina’s law requires all people to use the restroom or locker room that matches their biological sex in public schools and government buildings. This was an effort to counter the trend of permitting transgender individuals to use the restroom that they feel most comfortable using, despite their biological sex.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act specifically prohibits excluding any student from an educational program or activity receiving federal assistance on the basis of the student’s sex. The Department of Education promulgated a regulation stating that it is lawful under Title IX for schools to create separate restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of sex, so long as the facilities are equal. The Department of Education expanded further on the regulation in an opinion letter, declaring that schools may continue to have separate facilities, but must treat all students as if their sex is the gender that they identify as.
A female student who identified as male was denied his request to use the male restroom at his school. The student sued the school district, citing Title IX and the Department of Education regulations. The District Court had initially dismissed this claim, putting no weight on the Department’s opinion letter. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the dismissal, giving controlling weight to the opinion letter.
Although school districts in the Fourth Circuit will be required to follow the direction of the Department of Education in allowing students to use the restroom that matches their identified gender, the decision is not binding on schools in other circuits. However, as the transgender rights movement continues to progress, similar decisions are more likely to occur around the nation. Public schools and private schools receiving federal funding may soon be following the same requirements under Title IX.