Transgender Issue Overshadows Illinois School Board Election - NBC Chicago
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Transgender Issue Overshadows Illinois School Board Election

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    NEWSLETTERS

    For suburban voters, Tuesday is Election Day. On the ballot are several heated mayor races as well as school board and park district contests. Mary Ann Ahern reports. 

    (Published Tuesday, April 4, 2017)

    A school board race in suburban Chicago centers on transgender student access to locker rooms and restrooms, with a slate of candidates in Tuesday's election promising to roll back a policy that allowed a transgender student to use the girls' facilities.

    Three parents seeking seats on the Palatine-based Township High School District 211 school board have pledged to end locker room and bathroom access for students for students of the opposite biological sex. The district reached an agreement in late 2015 with a student that allows her to use the girls' locker rooms and restrooms.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which supported the student in her lawsuit against district, said that if all three parents calling themselves Parents With Purpose win seats on the board, there will likely be enough votes to roll back the district's policy. The parents' campaigns have drawn financial support from Richard Uihlein, a businessman from Lake Forest who has given millions to conservative causes.

    ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said the suburban Chicago case sticks out because elsewhere in the U.S. transgender access issues involving students have been worked out in a few school board meetings and without court intervention. 

    "In other school districts . most of that anger and angst really did dissipate. Instead, in this case, we're 2 1/2 years into this and it shows no sign of letting up," he told the Chicago Tribune. "They've decided to make a school board race out of it. It seems out of proportion and out of bounds of what we've seen happen in other places."

    More than 50 families calling themselves Parents for Privacy are suing the district over the transgender policy. Vicki Wilson, who co-founded Parents for Privacy, said parents have a reasonable expectation that private areas such as locker rooms are designated by biological sex.

    "There is a path forward where all students are protected and respected," she said. "I'd say, 'Let's get you an accommodation, but not in the girls' locker room.'" 

    School officials previously offered the anonymous student a separate changing facility, but President Barack Obama's administration threatened to withhold millions of dollars in funding. U.S. officials argued the district was in violation of Title IX legal protections against sex discrimination. 

    The district in response made a deal with the student in December 2015, agreeing to let her use the girls' locker room with the understanding she would use a private changing station that other students also can access.

    President Donald Trump's administration has rescinded Obama administration guidance and left it to states and school districts to interpret U.S. anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity, and not just their sex at birth.

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