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What Is Title IX? Schools, Sports, and Sex Discrimination

After a long wait, the Biden administration has officially made its mark on Title IX, the landmark federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools, with a revision to the law’s regulations finalized earlier this spring.

However President Joe Biden isn’t the first president to rewrite regulations implementing the historic law or change how it’s enforced. For the past three presidential administrations, Title IX has been an easy place for presidents to flex their political muscle on education and make value statements about the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people in educational settings.

In the Biden administration’s case, the latest revision strengthens the rights of LGBTQ+ students and staff. The revised rule explicitly states that schools cannot discriminate against students based on sexuality or gender identity.

Before releasing the revised regulation, the U.S. Department of Education already interpreted Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity, based on a 2020 Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Va., that found that federal employment law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality. However, the new rule makes that explicit under Title IX without room for interpretation.

“Since day one the Biden-Harris administration has been committed to ensuring Title IX works for all students,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in an April 18 news conference about the new rule. “These regulations make crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and that respect their rights.”

The change has set off a flurry of lawsuits against the Education Department from at least 15 Republican-led states, conservative advocacy organizations, and some school districts that argue, among other points, that the rule violates women’s rights. By allowing nonbinary and transgender people to benefit from Title IX protections, the lawsuits, argue the department is stripping away protections from cisgender women. In addition to the lawsuits, some Republican-led states have instructed school districts not to adhere to the revised regulation.

The debate over the law and how it applies to schools will likely only be amplified in the coming months as the department prepares to release another Title IX rule revision that would prohibit schools from banning all transgender students from joining school athletic teams that align with their gender identity. If finalized as proposed, that revision would directly challenge at least 25 state laws or regulations banning transgender athletes from teams consistent with their gender identity.

Regardless of what happens, educators can bet on changes to Title IX. Read on for more on the background of Title IX, misconceptions about the law, its day-to-day application in schools, and how it’s enforced.

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