HARTFORD, Conn. – The U.S. Department of Education is threatening to withhold some federal funding from Connecticut school districts if they follow a state policy that allows transgender girls to compete as girls in high school sports.
In response to a complaint filed last year by several cisgender female track athletes who argued that two transgender female runners had an unfair physical advantage, the federal agency's office for civil rights determined in May that Connecticut's policy violates the civil rights of athletes who are not transgender.
School districts including New Haven, as well as the Capitol Region Education Council, were asked around the beginning of September to sign a document to receive grants from a program for magnet schools that states they will “not participate in any interscholastic sporting events” unless the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference changes its policy on transgender athletes.
The Federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program Grants are worth about $3 million a year to New Haven and the education council.
The athletic conference has said its policy is designed to comply with a state law that requires all students to be treated as the gender with which they identify.
But the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights argues the policy violates the civil rights of girls who are not transgender under Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal opportunities in education.
The department did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said his city could lose the final two years of funding for its five-year magnet school grant federal when the federal fiscal year ends this month.
“It would basically mean that New Haven schoolchildren would have less access to educational opportunities,” he said. “There are teachers and administrative staff that support our program that are fully funded by this grant.”
He and Timothy Sullivan Jr., the superintendent of schools for the education council, said they have no intention of signing the document.
“It is unconscionable that the federal government would threaten to take away funds that support Hartford area children during a pandemic, and we will fight to keep the money in our community,” he said. “However, no amount of money will deter us from accepting all children for who they are and providing equitable access to programs and services.
The state's congressional delegation also sent a letter Thursday to Kimberly Richey, the U.S. Education Department's acting assistant secretary for civil rights, calling the department's action “an unprecedented overreach."
“This case is anything but normal, and it is clear that OCR is unwilling to enter conversations with (grant) recipients, even to discuss reasonable options such as waiting until the court ruling on CIAC’s policy,” the delegation wrote.
The dispute over transgender participation in Connecticut high school sports is the subject of a federal lawsuit, filed in February by cisgender track athletes who argue they were denied championships and potential college scholarship opportunities as the result of having to compete against two transgender girls.
The ACLU of Connecticut, which is representing the transgender athletes, said the Trump administration is trying to pressure schools into denying transgender athletes an opportunity to compete.
“It's incredibly mean spirited,” said Dan Barrett, the ACLU of Connecticut's legal director. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong declined to say how the state will respond but said he is working with the school districts to secure their magnet school funding.
“Neither federal law nor Connecticut law tolerates discrimination against transgender students,” he said. “Transgender girls are girls, and the Office of the Attorney General will continue to protect every woman and girl in this state against discrimination.