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Compromise reached over magnet school funding for Groton, Norwich and LEARN

The U.S. Department of Education has reached a compromise with Groton Public Schools, along with other school districts and educational entities at risk of losing federal magnet school funding over Connecticut’s transgender athlete policy, to leave the funds intact, Groton Superintendent Michael Graner said.

The recipients agreed to special conditions that will allow them to continue to participate in the federal Magnet School Assistance Program, according to the department.

The department's Office for Civil Rights had told Groton Public Schools earlier that its federal magnet school funding, used for Groton Middle School, was in jeopardy over the state's policy that allows transgender athletes to compete in sports under the gender with which they identify, school officials said. The federal government ruled that the policy violated Title IX, a federal civil rights law.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, in a policy dating back to 2013, determined “that it would be fundamentally unjust and contrary to applicable state and federal law to preclude a student from participation on a gender specific sports team that is consistent with the public gender identity of that student for all other purposes.”

The federal government had told Groton it could avoid being in violation of Title IX by withdrawing from interscholastic sports, which Groton did not agree to, Graner has said.

Groton receives the funding through a five-year MSAP grant awarded to LEARN, a regional educational service center, so the loss of the grant also would have affected funds for LEARN, the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London, Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School and Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School in Norwich, and Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford.

The federal government also told New Haven Public Schools and Capitol Region Education Council with partner district Enfield that their MSAP funding was at risk.

Under the compromise reached this week with the Office for Civil Rights, Graner signed an assurance that Groton Public Schools would not use MSAP funds toward interscholastic sports and would comply with the outcome of any court case concerning the application of Title IX to interscholastic athletic participation by transgender high school students.

Litigation on the matter is pending in federal court. The Alliance Defending Freedom, representing a group of female athletes, filed suit over Connecticut’s transgender athlete policy, the Connecticut Mirror reported.

Graner also agreed to report any Title IX complaints to OCR.

"We're happy with the outcome of the negotiations and we're pleased that we were able to secure grant funding for the benefit of students," said attorney Michelle Laubin, senior partner at Berchem Moses PC, who is representing Groton and New Haven.

She said New Haven Public Schools and CREC with partner district Enfield also signed assurances. For the LEARN grant, only Groton has a high school, so only Groton needed to sign.

"We are optimistic that we can resolve this matter in a way that protects the impacted cities and towns and their students without the need for litigation," said Elizabeth Benton, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General. "We have been closely engaged with federal authorities to protect funding for Connecticut students and ensure the rights of all students are protected."

If the federal government had withdrawn the MSAP grant awarded to LEARN, more than $3 million would have been lost for this year, and about $2.5 million for next year, LEARN had said. Specifically, the grant this year supports $704,000 for Groton Middle School; $389,511 for the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London; $309,597 for Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School in Norwich; $361,990 for Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School in Norwich; and $376,483 for Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford, as well as funds for LEARN.  

LEARN did not have a comment.

Graner said he and an attorney representing the district briefed the town Board of Education on the compromise and members felt comfortable with the agreement.

“We’re very grateful,” Graner added. “It seemed like there was a good amount of compromise and good will on the part of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, so we believe that the year four and year five of the grant will be provided to the schools.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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