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By PAT EATON-ROBB

The U.S. Justice Department has removed its support for a federal lawsuit in Connecticut that seeks to reverse a state policy allowing the participation of transgender athletes in girl's high school sports.

The lawsuit was filed a year ago by several cisgender runners who argue they have been deprived of wins, state titles and athletic opportunities by being forced to compete against two transgender sprinters.

The Justice Department's move comes just days before a Friday hearing on a motion to dismiss that lawsuit.

Last March, then-Attorney General William Barr signed what is known as a statement of interest in the lawsuit, arguing the policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the board that oversees the state’s high school athletic competitions, runs afoul of Title IX, the federal law that allows girls equal educational opportunities, including in athletics.

In a filing Tuesday, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham and other department officials withdrew Barr's statement, saying “The government has reconsidered the matter.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to comment.

The CIAC allows athletes to compete as the gender with which they identify and has said it is following a state law that requires all high school students be treated according to their gender identity.

The U.S. Department of Education's office for Civil Right last summer sent a letter threatening to cut off some federal funding to Connecticut school districts that followed the policy.

But during his campaign, President Biden committed to restoring transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.

Dan Barrett, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which represents the two transgender athletes in the lawsuit, said Tuesdays action represents “a hint that the government, the Department of Education, may now have a different view of Title IX.”

CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini has said the organization’s transgender policy was formed with federal and state guidance and that multiple courts and federal agencies, including the Justice Department had previously acknowledged that the term “sex” in Title IX is ambiguous.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Tuesday he was pleased with the U.S. Justice Department's decision to withdraw Barr's statement.

“Transgender girls are girls and every woman and girl deserves protection against discrimination. Period," he said in a statement.

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COVID-19: Heres When CT Restaurants, Other Business Can Go Back To Full Capacity

Some Connecticut restaurants and businesses will be permitted to open up to additional customers and patrons as the state continues its recovery from the latest surge of COVID-19. 

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Thursday, March 4 that in the coming weeks, the state will be easing certain restrictions, particularly those relating to capacity levels and travel restrictions.

Lamont noted that while some restrictions are being eased, all of the protocols that relate to face coverings, social distancing, and cleaning measures are being maintained.

Beginning on Friday, March 19, capacity limits will be eliminated for:

  • Restaurants (eight-person table capacity and 11 p.m. required closing time for dining rooms continues);
  • Retail;
  • Libraries;
  • Personal services;
  • Indoor recreation (excludes theaters, which will continue to have a 50 percent capacity);
  • Gyms and fitness centers;
Museums, aquariums, and zoos;
  • Offices;
  • Houses of worship.

On March 19, social gatherings at a private residence will be capped at 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors, and at commercial venues, the occupancy will be increased to 100 indoors and 200 outdoors.

Lamont also said that all sports will be permitted to practice and compete, with tournaments allowed.

Beginning on Monday, March 29, the capacity limit on early childhood classes will increase from 16 to 20, he noted.

As of April 2, outdoor amusement parks can reopen, outdoor event venues can increase to 50 percent capacity, though it will be capped at 10,000 people, and indoor stadiums will reopen at 10 percent capacity.

Summer camps and summer festivals have also been instructed to begin planning for the upcoming season.

Lamont made note that another rollback could be possible if the newly spreading variants of COVID-19 cause another spike in new infections.

"I felt that I think more than most, so I’ll tell you, it feels pretty good. It feels good that we’re able to do this," Lamont said. "It feels good that we’ve been slowly reopening since May 20. And we really haven’t had to turn back (and) I hope to God that we don’t.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, one of Lamont's advisers, said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to provide additional guidance moving forward now that the vaccine is more widely available.

"I think it’s going to be overly prescriptive and conservative. And that’s the wrong message. Because if we continue to be very prescriptive and not give people a realistic vision for what a better future is going to look like, they’re going to start to ignore the public health guidance," he said on CNBC.

"And for the most part over the last 12 months, the American population has put up with a lot. They’ve complied with a lot of the provisions that were put in place, and we’re safer for that,” he said. 

“And we’re going to lose that support if we don’t give a realistic life path to a better future. Now, March is a little bit premature, I think, to lift everything, but certainly getting on a glide path towards lifting a lot of these provisions right now makes sense.”

Protocols that will remain in place:

  • Face coverings and masks continue to be required;
  • Bars that only serve beverages continue to remain closed;
  • 11 p.m. closing time remains in place for events at venues, restaurants, and entertainment;
  • Indoor theaters continue to have a 50 percent capacity;
  • Large event venues such as stadiums can prepare to open in April.

"This is not Texas. This is not Mississippi. This is Connecticut. We are maintaining the masks,” Lamont said during his latest COVID-19 briefing. “I think I told you at the start, I think over the course a year, we know what works, and masks work.

"Connecticut has earned it,” Lamont added. “You know, it’s been tough, and people have been frustrated. They’ve been sheltered at home, and a lot of our businesses really suffered, and people took a hit.”

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