Commission on Civil Rights to probe Trump administration enforcement

"Along with changing programmatic priorities, these proposed cuts would result in a unsafe reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country", the commission concluded, "leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination".

Identified as such allegations in the letter is "failure to promptly and equitably resolve a transgender student's complaint of sex discrimination"; failure to assess whether harassment of transgender students, including the refusal to use their preferred gender pronouns, is motivated by animus; or retaliation against a transgender student for looking into potential sex discrimination claims.

Groups that advocate for LGBTQ students met with Department of Education officials Friday morning in an off-the-record meeting. "The presumption here should be it's business as usual, and not that OCR is abdicating its role as a protector of civil rights for transgender students".

Behind the scenes, the office created expansive guidelines for civil rights investigations, stating that certain types of complaints could automatically trigger broader investigations that looked into more than just the particular instance of discrimination highlighted in a complaint. Specifically, the instructions say that investigators should not reject gender harassment allegations in a complaint, even if they have dismissed allegations involving "denial of access to restrooms based on gender identity".

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"The unclear instructions issued by the Department of Education sow a new level of confusion and doubt for students, families and schools", Gupta said.

The investigation is launched as left-leaning ProPublica released an internal memo - sent by Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson - it says it "obtained" that suggests "the Department of Education has laid out plans to loosen requirements on investigations into civil rights complaints". "The civil and human rights community continues to stand united, supporting the right of every student to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be protected by the law regardless of gender identity".

The federal watchdog group became concerned about the Trump administration after several agencies announced budget and personnel cuts in departments that oversee civil rights.

"Along with changing programmatic priorities, these proposed cuts would result in a unsafe reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination", the commission wrote in a statement announcing the investigation. Individual complaints related to complex issues such as school discipline, sexual violence and harassment, equal access to educational resources, or racism at a single school might have prompted broader probes to determine whether the allegations were part of a pattern of discrimination or harassment. "In OCR, processing times have skyrocketed in recent years, and the case backlog has exploded".

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The commission is chaired by Catherine Lhamon, who served as assistant secretary of civil rights at the department under President Barack Obama.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice for many complainants has been denied for too long", Hill said in a statement.

The directive comes amid intense scrutiny of the Education Department by advocates for civil rights, who have criticized the Trump administration for seeking to roll back enforcement efforts.

Jackson issued another internal memo last week about how her office would respond to cases of discrimination after the rollback of Obama administration rules that encouraged states to allow transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement Thursday.

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