DeVos to visit school that refuses to accommodate trans students

DeVos to visit Harrisburg Catholic Elementary

By Caroline Kelly, CNN
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

(CNN) - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will attend a roundtable on Thursday at a Pennsylvania Catholic school that subscribes to an anti-trans student policy.

Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is slated to host the event, according to a department press release -- and is subject to the Diocese of Harrisburg's student policy on Gender Identity Questions.

The policy characterizes gender-affirming surgery, an option for some transgender individuals, as "understood in Catholic moral terms as self-mutilation and therefore immoral."

"To attempt to make accommodations for such persons would be to cooperate in the immoral action and impose an unacceptable burden on others in the school community," the policy reads.

The policy asserts that Catholic school students' parents "agree that they will not (publicly) act in opposition to Catholic teaching."

"Notification of a student's determination to undergo a sex change procedure or that a student has undergone the procedure ... would violate that agreement," the policy continues. "The student would be ineligible to attend or remain in attendance in a Catholic school."

CNN has reached out to Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School and the US Education Department for comment. The school's anti-trans policy was first reported by HuffPost.

The school visit isn't DeVos' first brush with controversy over transgender rights. In 2017, the Trump administration withdrew Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and other facilities corresponding with their gender identity. DeVos originally opposed a draft of the Trump administration's plan for withdrawing the protections, sources told CNN at the time.

The following year, a Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed that the department is no longer investigating civil rights complaints from transgender students banned from using bathrooms conforming with their gender identity.

During testimony before House lawmakers in May 2018, DeVos was asked by then-Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado about her plans "to address LGBTQ discrimination and harassment in our schools," citing two different lawsuits. DeVos said she was "committed to protecting civil rights, as stated by civil rights law" but that courts had been "mixed" on transgender students.

Polis pressed DeVos, arguing that the rights of transgender students are protected by court precedent and the law.

DeVos again cited "mixed" court rulings and said Congress hasn't weighed in.

"I am not going to make up law at the Department of Education," she said.

This story has been updated.

CNN's Ariane de Vogue, Mary Kay Mallonee, Emanuella Grinberg, Eli Watkins and Juana Summers contributed to this report.

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