Betsy DeVos’ Ed Dept. Warns Connecticut Schools: Leave Conference That Lets Boys Compete In Girls’ Sports Or Your Funding Will Be Cut

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee discussing proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Education Department on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC.
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The Department of Education, headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, will withhold roughly $18 million from Connecticut school districts unless they withdraw from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which permits biological boys to compete in girls’ athletic events.

School districts in New Haven, Hartford, and southeast Connecticut were supposed to receive a total of roughly $45 million from five-year grants, but the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has warned officials in those school districts they have until October 1 to withdraw from the conference or the remaining funding will be cut.

“The Education Department in May warned the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference that it considers allowing biologically male athletes to participate in girls’ sports a violation of Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding,” The New York Times noted.

On August 31, Kimberly M. Richey, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, wrote to the Connecticut school districts:

As an initial matter, despite some similarities, Title IX differs from Title VII in important respects. Title IX has different operative text, is subject to different statutory exceptions, and is rooted in a different Congressional power … Significantly, unlike Title VII, one of Title IX’s crucial purposes is protecting women’s and girls’ athletic opportunities. Indeed, Title IX was passed, and implemented by regulations, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities and to protect equal athletic opportunity for students who are biological females, including providing for sex-segregated athletics.

She added, “There are circumstances in which a person’s sex is relevant, and distinctions based on the two sexes in such circumstances are permissible because the sexes are not similarly situated. Congress recognized as much in Title IX itself when it provided that nothing in the statute should be construed to prohibit “separate living facilities for the different sexes.”

Richey’s letter also stated that the OCR had warned the CIAC and other school districts that they had violated Title IX as early as February, writing, “Via e-mail on February 12, 2020, OCR notified the CIAC, Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton, and Danbury that it had determined that the CIAC, Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton, and Danbury violated Title IX, and provided a proposed resolution agreement (the Agreement) to each that would resolve OCR’s compliance concerns.” Those conversations continued through mid-March.

At roughly the same time in February, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by three high school girls and their mothers against the CIAC, which permitted boys to compete in events and win awards that would otherwise have gone to girls.

Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, and Chelsea Mitchell, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), were denied opportunities to compete at higher levels as boys took home the prizes. CIAC’s policy allowed two males to compete in girls’ athletic competitions beginning in the 2017 track season. Those boys took 15 women’s state championship titles (titles held in 2016 by nine different Connecticut girls) and more than 85 opportunities to participate in higher level competitions from female track athletes in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons alone.

Mitchell, who was ranked the fastest biological girl in Connecticut in the 55mlost four girls’ state championships and two all-New England awards. She recalled, “I knew that I was the fastest girl here, one of the fastest in the state. I remembered all my training and everything I had been taught on how to maximize my performance … I thought of all the times that other girls have lost. I could feel the adrenaline in my blood and hope that wafted from me. That just possibly, I could win this. Then, the gun went off. And I lost.”

In her letter, Richey continued, “On March 12, 2020, counsel for Bloomfield, Hartford, and Cromwell, and on March 13, 2020, counsel for the CIAC, Glastonbury, Canton and Danbury, informed OCR that their clients would not sign the Agreements.”

Richey concluded, “Based on the failure of the CIAC, Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton, and Danbury to resolve the identified areas of noncompliance, OCR will either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance to the CIAC, Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton, and Danbury, or refer the cases to the U.S. Department of Justice for judicial proceedings to enforce any rights of the United States under its laws.”

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