The U.S. Department of Education will no longer investigate complaints filed by transgender students who are not allowed to use school restrooms that match their gender identity.

The development was first reported by BuzzFeed News after the outlet pressed the department for a position on the issue for several weeks.

BuzzFeed News asked the department whether restroom complaints from transgender students are covered by Title IX civil rights law.

“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Liz Hill, department spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News. She explained that while some types of transgender complaints may be investigated, the department holds the position that bathroom complaints will not be because “separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

A 2016 guidance issued by the Obama administration required schools to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, taking the position that federal Title IX law banning sex discrimination in schools protects transgender students.

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The Trump administration rescinded those guidelines last year, giving states and local school boards the power to determine which bathroom students are allowed to use.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told CNN that “choosing to ignore the rights of transgender students and to not enforce Title IX when it comes to their protection is an unambiguous step backwards for civil rights in this country.”

The Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights, also responded.

“While civil rights advocates have suspected that the Department of Education was not acting on complaints brought forward by transgender students, reports that these violations are completely being ignored are reprehensible,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also weighed in on Twitter, stating that “School bathroom policies that deny a student’s gender identity are discriminatory, harmful and unlawful.”

“The facts now on the table are devastating, though by now unsurprising,” Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth, said in a statement. “Congress created the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Education in order to ensure that marginalized and vulnerable students had a champion. Under Secretary DeVos, the office has abdicated that solemn responsibility for transgender youth.”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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