Education Department Poises to Pull Funding From Schools Over Transgender Athletes Policy

September 21, 2020 Updated: September 21, 2020

The U.S. Department of Education has sent warnings to Connecticut school systems, saying they will not receive an upcoming round of federal funding if they continue to allow transgender student-athletes to play on teams that match their identified gender.

A New York Times report confirmed the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has informed three school districts that they may lose federal founding unless they disaffiliate with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which administers high school sports in the state. The conference currently allows transgender students to compete on teams based on their choice of gender identity, a policy deemed by OCR to be in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

The department vowed to withhold a total of $18 million in federal grants if the districts fail to end their ties with the CIAC by Oct. 1.

“Congress requires the department to withhold funds from schools that aren’t in compliance with the law,” Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito told the New York Times. “Connecticut applicants declined—on multiple occasions—to assure the Office for Civil Rights that they are in compliance with Title IX.”

In an earlier letter to the Connecticut school districts, the ORC warned that they violated Title IX when they “placed female student-athletes in athletic events against male student-athletes,” resulting in competitive disadvantages for female student-athletes.

“The Department … does not interpret Title IX to authorize separate teams based on each person’s transgender status, or for members of each gender identity,” the Aug. 31 letter (pdf) read. “The recipient [of federal funding] must separate those teams on the basis of biological sex, and not on the basis of homosexual or transgender status.”

The department’s warning comes amid an ongoing lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s transgender student-athletes policy. Conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is suing CIAC on behalf of three girls, who argue that allowing biological male athletes to compete in girls’ sports has deprived them of track titles and scholarship opportunities.

“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing them to compete against boys isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb in a press release. “Having separate boys’ and girls’ sports has always been based on biological differences, not what people believe about their gender, because those differences matter for fair competition. And forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports is completely at odds with Title IX, a federal law designed to create equal opportunities for women in education and athletics.”