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CT Congressional Delegation Urges Trump Administration to Drop Threat to Withhold Magnet School Funding

September 17, 2020
Press Release

Trump administration holding hostage millions of dollars for magnet school programming

[HARTFORD, CT] – Members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation, in a letter led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), today urged the Trump administration to withdraw its threat to withhold magnet school funding from those districts that follow Connecticut State Law allowing transgender athletes to participate in athletic events in the gender they identify with.

“We strongly and unequivocally urge the Department of Education (Department) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) withdraw its threat to withhold Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) from Connecticut public schools unless such schools violate Connecticut anti-discrimination laws protecting the rights of transgender students.   This enforcement action is an unprecedented overreach, in violation of OCR’s own guidelines, and an arbitrary remedy that specifically targets Connecticut students” wrote the delegation members.

 

They added, “OCR’s harsh message to the schools is either: (1) withdraw from CIAC thereby denying their students important educational and athletic experiences in school sports and violate state anti-discrimination law or (2) lose millions of critical federal financial assistance. The undersigned Members of Congress representing these students do not appreciate such ransom tactics from the Department, and object to the OCR’s action to hold Connecticut students hostage in pursuit of the Administration’s ideological agenda.”

 

Blumenthal was joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), U.S. Representatives John Larson (CT-1), Joe Courtney (CT-2), Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Jim Himes (CT-4), and Jahana Hayes (CT-5).

 

A complete copy of the letter can be found below:

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary Richey,

 

We strongly and unequivocally urge the Department of Education (Department) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) withdraw its threat to withhold Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) from Connecticut public schools unless such schools violate Connecticut anti-discrimination laws protecting the rights of transgender students.   This enforcement action is an unprecedented overreach, in violation of OCR’s own guidelines, and an arbitrary remedy that specifically targets Connecticut students.  

 

Firstly, the Department chose to pursue this enforcement determination in spite of pending litigation on this topic. The pending case in question, Soule et al v. CT Association of Schools Et Al, is under active consideration, a fact the Department is well aware of given the Administration’s “Statement of Interest” in the case filed on March 24, 2020. The Department is pursuing this enforcement in violation of their own guidelines, which justify dismissal of a complaint if “the same or similar allegations based on the same operative facts have been filed by the complainant against the same recipient in state or Federal court”. Under standard procedure, OCR would wait until the court has ruled before depriving Connecticut students of critical funding that facilitates more diverse educational experiences.

 

Regardless of the questionable merits of OCR’s interpretation of Title IX, this enforcement action falls well outside the usual and customary methods of dealing with alleged Title IX disagreements. Never before has the Department sought to decertify federal education funding for an alleged violation, as grant recipients are normally in extended communication with Department officials in order to avoid such an extreme action. This case is anything but normal, and it is clear that OCR is unwilling to enter conversations with recipients, even to discuss reasonable options such as waiting until the court ruling on CIAC’s policy. OCR has given the schools mere days to react to their demands, with the possibility of an appeal of the decision growing dimmer by the day as the September 30th deadline approaches.

 

Further, and possibly most troubling is the arbitrary and punitive nature of this action, threatening the education of students in proven and successful magnet schools across the state of Connecticut. OCR’s harsh message to the schools is either: (1) withdraw from CIAC thereby

denying their students important educational and athletic experiences in school sports and violate state anti-discrimination law or (2) lose millions of critical federal financial assistance. The undersigned Members of Congress representing these students do not appreciate such ransom tactics from the Department, and object to the OCR’s action to hold Connecticut students hostage in pursuit of the Administration’s ideological agenda.

 

Given the short notice provided to districts, and questionable legality of the Department’s directives, we urge the OCR suspend enforcement action against the New Haven school district, the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), and LEARN until the legality of the OCR’s interpretation can be reviewed by the courts. These districts deserve and need MSAP funding.  The OCR’s decision, in a time of unprecedented challenges, benefits no student or legitimate educational goal.

 

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter; given the short notice OCR provided to these school districts, we ask for a response by Monday, September 21st.

 

Thank you,

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