Illinois’ Largest School District, Feds Square Off on Transgender Discrimination


In spite of the fact that federal officials have called their current policy “inadequate and discriminatory,” Illinois’ largest high school district, Palatine’s District 211, is not planning to give transgender students unrestricted access to school locker rooms.

A transgender student has filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights alleging that she was being discriminated against by not being allowed into the girls’ locker room for gym class and competitive sports, writes NBC News Chicago.

“What they are asking us to do is have opposite sex students in the same open area of the locker room and that we do not do,” District 211 Supt. Dan Cates said Monday. “This is a matter we take very seriously and this policy would undo that.”

John Knight of ACLU of Illinois is representing the student, and said in a statement that he was surprised that his client was being so “blatantly” discriminated against. He added that kids want to be part of the athletic team for which they play, and the school is denying his client from being “fully incorporated into that team.”

The district said it wants to be sensitive to the challenges that transgender youth are facing but adds that there are private accommodations for transgender students in every one of its five high schools. Transgender students are allowed to play on sports teams that are “sex-identified” but are given private changing “stations” during the school day and at after-school activities. Otherwise, students are to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identity (the sex from which they transitioned), “as there are private stalls available.”

The goal, says the district, is to protect privacy rights for all students when changing clothes or showering while providing accommodations needed to meet the “unique needs of individual students.” He says the girl has identified as female since a very early age and has also been living as a girl full-time for several years.

The district, if it does not change its policy, stands to lose some of its federal funding. Cates said that could be as much as $6 million, and the district may be facing litigation.

“District 211 has provided individual accommodations in a manner that does not infringe on the privacy concerns of other students, and it will continue to do so,” a message on the district’s website read. “It is the District’s position that OCR’s (Office for Civil Rights’) unilateral mandate does not consider the best interests of all District 211 students and their families.”

The complaint, which was filed about a year and a half ago, says the school is in violation of the Title IX gender equality law, according to the ACLU, write Duaa Eldeib and Robert McCoppin of the Chicago Tribune. Last year, the Office of Civil Rights settled with a school district in California when a transgender elementary school student complained of alleged gender discrimination, which eventually ended with the district allowing the student to use the female-designated locker room and bathrooms.

One Illinois middle school transgender student is allowed to use the team’s locker room, but an aide must be present to observe from a distance in case of potential problems. Chicago, however, adopted a policy last year that included a case-by-case locker room and bathroom determination.

“Most transgender people, like most cisgender (or nontransgender) people, are perfectly capable of making smart decisions for themselves,” Alex Sennello, a local transgender activist, said. “A lot goes into this: ‘Am I going to be safe? Am I going to be made fun of, or feel self-conscious?’ “

Because District 211′s transgender student has not been bullied or treated badly, district officials claimed they were vindicated, according to Mike Flannery of Fox 32 Chicago. They added that they were looking forward to defending their decision in federal court.

Cates said, according to Maudlyne Ihejirika of the Chicago Sun-Times, that the district’s students “did not attend school in government offices in Washington, D.C.” He said he hopes that “reasonableness will prevail,” and continued by stating that the schools in the district accommodate transgender students by changing names and genders on school records, by allowing them to join sports teams of their chosen gender, and by allowing them to use the bathrooms they prefer.