Suburban School's Locker Room Policy Discriminates Against Transgender Student, Feds Say

The school district officers "separate private accommodations" for transgender students to change before gym class and after-school sports.

Palatine's District 211, Illinois' largest high school district, says it has no plans to give transgender students unrestricted access to school locker rooms, despite a finding by federal officials calling the school's current policy "inadequate and discriminatory." 

"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."

The district's announcement comes after a transgender student filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, claiming she was discriminated against and not allowed into the girls’ locker room for gym and competitive sports.

"It's really surprising and unfortunate, this blatant discrimination against my client," John Knight of the ACLU of Illinois, who represents the student, said in a statement. "Kids want to belong. If you are part of an athletic team, you want to be fully incorporated into that team and that is what the school is denying her."

District 211 said the district is "sensitive to the challenges facing transgender youth" and provides private accommodations for transgender students in all five of its high schools.

Transgender students are allowed to participate in "sex-identified sports teams" and are given private changing stations during regular school days and after-school activities, the district said. Students who don’t want to use the school’s "separate private accommodations" are allowed to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identity, "as there are private stalls available."

"The goal of the District in this matter is to protect the privacy rights of all students when changing clothes or showering before or after physical education and after-school activities, while also providing accommodations necessary to meet the unique needs of individual students," the district said in a statement.

The ACLU said the Department of Education found the school violates federal law by denying the student access to the locker rooms consistent with the student’s gender. The young student has identified as female since a "very early age and has been living full-time as a girl for several years," the ACLU said.

If the district doesn't come to an agreement with federal officials, it could lose some of its federal funding, which amounted to about $6 million last year, Cates said. It could also face 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 ACLU noted that transgender students are at a greater risk for bullying, harassment and discrimination and said the district’s policies "put these vulnerable students at greater risk of harm."

"It is puzzling that the school district has decided to elevate its misguided interpretation of 'privacy' over the fundamental principle of non-discrimination," Knight said in a statement. "The school leadership's decision is a poor reflection on the community they represent."  

The Office of Civil Rights was not immediately available for comment.

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