May 20, 2024

Indiana tells schools to ignore LGBTQ student protections as Title IX fight begins

A person holds a Pride Flag inside the Tennessee Statehouse in Nashville in February 2024. Indiana joined a federal lawsuit with Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia against the U.S. Department of Education to invalidate the new Title IX regulations.  - George Walker IV / Associated Press

A person holds a Pride Flag inside the Tennessee Statehouse in Nashville in February 2024. Indiana joined a federal lawsuit with Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia against the U.S. Department of Education to invalidate the new Title IX regulations.

George Walker IV / Associated Press

Indiana’s education department is telling school districts not to adopt new federal protections for LGBTQ+ students and sex-based discrimination until several lawsuits challenging the regulations, including one by the state’s attorney general, are settled. 

The new Title IX guidelines, released by the U.S. Department of Education, forbids discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics in federally funded educational programs.

Attorney General Todd Rokita joined a lawsuit with several other GOP-led states that is focused on safeguards for students’ gender identity. Rokita called these news rules “radical” and alleges it’s an attack on the rights of girls by ending sex-based distinctions in public schools.

The legal and political fight is already causing divisions in Indiana’s K-12 education. Secretary of Education Katie Jenner’s office is telling schools not to update their Title IX policies until litigation is resolved and implications are clear. But the state’s schools are required to adopt the rules by the Aug. 1 deadline to remain compliant for federal funding.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona unveiled the new Title IX rules last month. A policy regarding transgender athletes is not expected yet

“These final regulations build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights," Cardona said in a statement. 

The Title IX update broadens protections to LGBTQ+ students while also expanding safeguards from pregnancy discrimination and preventing schools from use of intimidation or threats against someone who reports sex-based discrimination among other updates.

Under these guidelines, schools would be prohibited from excluding transgender students from shared bathroom spaces and changing areas. And educators would be expected to use pronouns that correspond with a student’s gender identity. 

Advocates, like Indiana Youth Group, say IDOE’s recommendation to delay adoption tells LGBTQ+ students that they are not welcome or supported. 

“I worry that holding off on these laws will affect all children,” said Chris Paulsen, chief executive officer of IYG. “Deciding to discriminate against LGBTQ kids could ultimately affect everyone's education if the federal government decides to withhold funding because we're not following the law.”

The head of the Indiana State Teachers Association said he is “deeply concerned” by the delay. 

“This stance not only undermines the rights of LGBTQ+ students but also places our schools at risk of losing vital federal funding,” Keith Gambill, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said. 

The state’s advisory could put public schools in a difficult position. Indiana K-12 schools received $1,150 per student, or $1.20 billion, from the federal government in 2023, according to the Education Data Initiative

These grants  support children with disabilities, migrant students, rural schools, testing and much more which can make the state and local schools beholden to these requirements. Plus, it’s a federal law.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education told WFYI that all schools and colleges that receive federal funds are required to comply with the final regulations. 

“We look forward to working with school communities all across the country to ensure the Title IX guarantee of nondiscrimination in school is every student’s experience,” the spokesperson wrote.

The state and local schools face a potential loss of federal funding if schools aren’t compliant although it’s not common.

Some schools, ed leaders prepare for Title IX changes

The IDOE says it's reviewing the new Title IX with legal counsel.

“This will undoubtedly have major implications for Indiana schools and students and will likely be subject to legal challenges,” IDOE wrote to schools last month about the regulations. 

But Terry Spradlin, Indiana School Boards Association executive director, said he is telling the state’s 290 school corporations to prepare and implement the new guidelines on the August 1 deadline.

“Districts should absolutely be in the mode of understanding what the regulations require,” said Spradlin about the elected boards charged with implementing policy. “And plan ahead — you know, for bathroom issues and those kinds of things — and changing policy or student handbooks to accommodate the changes.”

If legal challenges result in an injunction on the federal rules, school districts can adapt then, Spradlin said.

“We can change gears if necessary,” Spradlin said. “But otherwise, we need to be in the business of planning ahead for the changes that we are required to comply with.”

Carmel Clay Schools already began training administrators at the school and district level on the guidelines and plans to be in compliance by August, district spokeswoman Emily Bauer wrote in an email. 

Other districts, like the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, also plan to align their policies with federal requirements by the deadline. 

“We remain committed to providing educational opportunities free from discrimination for all students,”Jeannine Templeman, a spokeswoman for MSD of Wayne Township, wrote in an email. 

GOP-led states sue over new rules

There are at least five lawsuits pending against Title IX involving a total of 22 states, according to the National School Boards Association.

Rokita is part of a coalition of state attorney generals who filed a lawsuit in response to the federal guidance citing that they infringe on parental rights and impose gender-based ideology on children. The lawsuit is in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

In a statement on April 30, Rokita said the rules forces states to accept “radical gender ideology” in schools. Last week, a spokesman for Rokita told WFYI the office sought a preliminary injunction to stop President Joe Biden’s “radical” Title IX changes before it can take effect. 

Republican-led states suing over these new regulations claim “sex” is redefined under the new regulations, which now include protections for transgender people. 

They also call the rules unconstitutional and unlawful. 

Some of the changes include a rewriting of rules for sexual assault created by former President Donald Trump’s administration. 

As Rokita and other state leaders challenge the new rules in court, Indiana’s education department will be expected to navigate any legal challenges or possible injunctions.

The state’s education department is in contact with the attorney general’s office because the litigation could impact its operations and local K-12 schools, a spokeswoman confirmed. 

Rokita’s office said since IDOE is a client, they would not release if they did or did not provide legal advice related to Title IX. 

The debate over transgender rights in Indiana public schools have gone through the courts more than once in the last few years. 

In 2021, Metropolitan School District of Martinsville was sued by a trangender boy and his family after he was denied access to the boys’ bathroom at his middle school. 

According to the lawsuit, staff at the school also refused to use male pronouns that align with his gender identity. They argued his rights under Title IX were violated because of this treatment. 

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that MSD of Martinsville violated the student’s rights under Title IX.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. 

State lawmakers passed a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth during the 2023 legislative session. The new law took effect in February after an injunction to stop it was struck down.

Actions by the state are driving out families with LGBTQ+ students, said Paulsen, the leader of Indiana Youth Group.

“It's tough being a student as it is and then to know that you're not welcomed by the education leaders in your own school,” Paulsen said. “That is heartbreaking. I can't imagine that any student would flourish in their education under those circumstances.”

Title IX has roots in Indiana, where former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh wrote the bill and led it through Congress in the 1970s. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in any education programs that receive money from the federal government.

WFYI education editor Eric Weddle contribued to this story.

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

 

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