An Oval Office Brawl Over Transgender Kids: 7 Things We Know About the DeVos-Sessions Showdown
On Wednesday, the Trump administration made the decision to remove federal protections for transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The Education and Justice departments released a "Dear Colleague" letter, stating that the previous guidance from the Obama administration did not adequately explain how Title IX covers gender identity. They also emphasized the importance of state and local school districts in setting educational policies.
There is now speculation about the potential impact of this move on the pending Supreme Court case involving Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager who took his Virginia school district to court.
While advocates for student rights are primarily concerned about student safety, political commentators are also noting that this marks the first major clash between President Trump’s cabinet appointees. This disagreement pits Attorney General Jeff Sessions against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Here are seven key things we know about this significant divide in the Oval Office over education, as reported by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico:
1. The debate over the transgender bathroom guidance was expedited due to ongoing court cases, according to The New York Times. DeVos prioritized this issue within just two weeks of taking office.
2. The Washington Post first reported that DeVos expressed objections to reversing the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender accommodations. Politico then revealed that she aimed to slow down the process by seeking public input through a notice and comment period. Multiple news outlets subsequently reported that she disagreed with Sessions and opposed the rescission of the Obama administration’s protections.
3. The New York Times reported that Sessions approached President Trump about his objections to DeVos’s stance: "After failing to make headway, [Sessions] took his concerns to the White House because he needed [DeVos’s] approval to proceed."
4. Trump subsequently met with DeVos, who restated her opposition to rescinding the protections. Politico stated that their disagreement escalated into an argument in the Oval Office in front of the president.
5. The Times reports that Trump ultimately sided with Sessions, instructing DeVos to drop her opposition and ordering the rescission of the bathroom directive. "Faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, Ms. DeVos agreed to comply."
6. However, the dispute did not end there. When the Education and Justice departments released their joint letter rescinding the protections on Wednesday, it stressed the importance of protecting transgender students from bullying. Politico and the Times noted that DeVos insisted on including this language. The final version of the letter reads, in part: "Please note that withdrawing these guidance documents does not mean that students are without protection from discrimination, bullying, or harassment. … All schools must ensure that LGBT students, like all other students, can learn and thrive in a safe environment."
7. DeVos also immediately issued her own statement and tweet, emphasizing the need to protect LGBT students and stating that it is a federal obligation to do so. Her statement asserted that "we have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment… This is not just a federal mandate, but a moral duty that no individual, school, district, or state can evade." She further declared that the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education will continue to investigate claims of discrimination, bullying, and harassment against vulnerable students.
In summary, this decision by the Trump administration to withdraw federal protections for transgender students using bathrooms according to their gender identity has sparked controversy and highlighted divisions within the cabinet. While some focus on student safety, others are analyzing the clash between Attorney General Sessions and Education Secretary DeVos.