US DOE: School District in Violation of Transgender Student Rights

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This week, the US Department of Education said that the rights of a transgender student had been violated by a suburban Chicago school district when they denied her access to the girls’ locker room.

Aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, the student filed a complaint against Illinois’ Palatine Township School District 211 in an effort to gain unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room.  The district had previously suggested a compromise that would allow the student to go into the locker room but require her to change and shower in a separate area.

“All students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities — this is a basic civil right,” Education Department Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in a statement.

Lhamon added that the district has the ability to allow the student access while at the same time respecting the privacy of all students.  She made a push for the district to make the necessary changes, thereby bringing the case to a close.

If the district does not change its policy in 30 days, it could lose millions of dollars in federal funding.  The case could also make it to the Department of Justice.

The Palatine school district receives $6 million each year in federal funding.  However, the federal government has said the district is in violation of an anti-discrimination law, which puts that money at risk, writes Mitch Smith for The New York Times.

The unnamed student was reportedly happy to hear the news, saying that the federal ruling makes it known that the actions of the school were wrong.

Although no official comment has been made by the district, Superintendent Daniel Cates said last month that the district supports its transgender students, but has to consider the rights of its other students, which total over 12,000.

At that time, Cates said that it boiled down to an issue of student privacy, and he looked forward to working with the Education Department in finding a reasonable solution.

According to ACLU lawyer John Knight, the complaint was filed two years ago.  The student in question, who was in the process of undergoing hormone therapy but had not yet had gender reassignment surgery, has since been required by the district to change in a restroom stall, writes Michael Miller for The Washington Post.

The complaint comes at a time when the debate over transgender rights has heated up nationwide, resulting in almost half of all US states, including Illinois, prohibiting transgender discrimination.

But not everyone agrees with the movement. Houston saw the approval of new protections for transgenders and minorities last year.  However, strong pushback caused a referendum on the issue.  The citizens of Houston voted this week to reject an ordinance that would have extended rights in public spaces regardless of gender identification or sexual identity.