WASHINGTON — Students who said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity were significantly less likely to get any relief from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under the Trump administration than they were under the Obama administration, according to a report released Monday.
The report, released by the liberal Center for American Progress and based on the Education Department’s own data, provided the first analysis of how students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer have fared in the first half of the Trump administration. The administration has reshaped policy to exclude civil rights protections for transgender people in most areas of government and has scaled back legal protections for gay people.
The report found that the Trump administration was less likely to investigate claims of discrimination filed by the students — and more likely to dismiss them. The percentage of complaints that resulted in a school being required to take action to remedy the discrimination under the current administration was nine times lower than under the Obama administration, it concluded.
In 2017, just weeks after the new administration took office, the Education and Justice Departments rescinded an Obama-era guidance document that informed schools that denying students access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity was a violation under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding. The Trump administration believed, as many conservatives had long argued, that the Obama administration’s guidance amounted to overreach and was inconsistent with federal law.
The Education Department has adopted the administration’s position, issued in a memo by the Department of Justice, that gender identity is not covered under federal civil rights laws.
But Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, who reportedly protested the swiftness of the document’s revocation, has said that while the department would no longer investigate bathroom complaints, it would still enforce protections for L.G.B.T.Q. students, including transgender students, who were bullied, penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes.
That’s not happening, the Center for American Progress said.
“These data really show that Betsy DeVos is not doing her job,” said Frank J. Bewkes, one of the report’s authors. “Her office just doesn’t seem to care about enforcing civil rights for these students.”
Department officials released data this month that showed that students who have filed civil rights complaints under Ms. DeVos’s leadership “are served more efficiently and effectively than students who filed civil rights complaints during the previous administration.”
The agency boasted that it has resolved, on average, nearly double the number of civil rights complaints per year compared to the prior eight fiscal years, and it noted a 60 percent increase in the number of complaint resolutions that required schools to make changes to protect students’ civil rights.
The department said that its own analysis of the complaint data for L.G.B.T.Q. students showed the same trend.
“These data were selectively compiled by a left-wing interest group to tell an ideological story,” said Liz Hill, spokeswoman for the department. “No one should mistake this as unbiased. This department vigorously protects the civil rights of all students and will continue to do so to the fullest extent of the law.”
The data obtained by the center, which has served as a research center for Democratic interests, reviewed complaints filed by students from March 2010 to May 2018, and resolved by the office for civil rights from November 2010 to June 2018. The organization examined complaints of discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual orientation-related sex stereotyping under Title IX, and determined how the complaints were handled using resolution codes used by the Education Department.
The overwhelming percent of complaints, 75.9, alleged sexual or gender harassment, and transgender students were overrepresented in the filings.
The office for civil rights was at least 54 percent more likely to investigate a sexual orientation and gender identity complaint under the Obama administration than it was under the Trump administration, according to the report. When complaints were investigated, 91.5 percent were dismissed or closed with no finding of wrongdoing, compared to 65.4 percent under the Obama administration. Ultimately, the Obama administration resolved 22.4 percent of such cases with a change to policy or practice that the department believed would benefit the student compared to 2.4 percent under the Trump administration, the group concluded.
The Education Department said that its own analysis of the complaint categories showed that it was averaging more resolutions requiring schools to make a change than the previous administration — emphasizing the complaints acted on, not the complaints that went unanswered.
It said the current administration averages 11 resolutions that required a change each year, compared to nine averaged under the Obama administration. In fiscal year 2018, the agency obtained more resolutions with change in these categories than the previous administration had achieved in any one year.
Department officials acknowledged that the previous administration fared better when looking broadly at how all cases were resolved — which is what the Center for American Progress did — but noted that the previous administration’s numbers appear better because it resolved fewer cases.
“A parent wants to know, if their child’s civil rights are being violated, will O.C.R. provide for a change,” Ms. Hill said, referring to the department’s Office for Civil Rights. “Under this administration, it is more likely that it will. The numbers speak for themselves if assessed objectively.”
But critics say the department’s metric for success ignores a large volume of students.
“If you’re just rushing through complaints, it’s not surprising that you would resolve a large volume,” said Shabab Ahmed Mirza, who co-authored the center’s report. “What we’ve found is that more students are having cases resolved and not seeing justice. They’re not talking about students who see no change at all.”
Ms. Mirza said that one finding in particular undercut the department’s claim that the Obama administration’s civil rights office was pushing a political agenda.
Of the complaints that were investigated, the Obama administration was twice as likely to find after an investigation that a school had not violated students’ rights.
Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration and issued the transgender guidance, said that is because her administration was “investigating the facts where they lead, and calling balls and strikes as they were.”
“To receive the signoff that you have not harmed children, it’s a very significant resolution and it means a lot,” Ms. Lhamon said. “What the Trump administration is doing is not even examining whether anyone’s been harmed. There’s a benefit to examining whether a student has been discriminated against, even when the answer is no.”