WASHINGTON • The White House has overturned protections for transgender students that required public schools to allow them to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching the gender with which they identify.
With the move, President Donald Trump - who indicated during his campaign that he might protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights - has sided with social conservatives on a key issue at the centre of a broader cultural battle between conservatives and liberals.
By lifting federal guidelines issued by the Obama administration - interpreting Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools, to include gender identity - the Trump administration is leaving it up to states and school districts to decide whether students should have access to bathrooms that do not reflect their biological sex.
In a two-page guidance letter to public schools on Wednesday, the White House said the existing guidance did not "contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process".
The decision comes after a reported disagreement over the language between Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an opponent of the LGBT rights movement, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is said to support LGBT rights and had to sign off on the move.
Ms DeVos said "the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools".
The decision prompted a flood of criticism from human-rights and other groups.
Ms Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, told reporters the move was "simply and dangerously wrong and incorrect".