Transgender students aren't a new issue for suburban schools

Last year at Round Lake High School, a transgender student asked for more unisex bathrooms. The school now has eight.

Eight years ago, the first openly transgender student at Streamwood High School was allowed to use the nurse's office to change, or the girls locker room, but only after the other girls had left. A transgender student in Elgin Area District U-46 today follows the same rules.

At Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, transgender students are allowed to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice.

Suburban schools have been working with transgender students for years, with decisions largely made administratively and not by publicly elected school boards.

That changed Monday, when Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 announced it would not comply with a federal mandate to permit a transgender student who identifies as a girl to use the girls locker room. Superintendent Dan Cates said the administration and school board believe the need to protect the privacy of all District 211 students outweighs the federal mandate and have offered the student the use of a private changing area. The student is permitted to use the girls bathrooms.

The student has filed a complaint, and the Office of Civil Rights could pull the district into litigation or take away its $6 million in federal funding for the violation.

As District 211 waits to hear what comes next in its standoff with the Department of Education, it is by no means alone with dealing with the issues presented by transgender students. It is, however, the only suburban district where a transgender student has filed a complaint.

At Stevenson High School, where transgender students can use the bathroom or locker room of their choice, a student who identified as a boy was using the boys bathrooms in 2014, spokesman Jim Conrey said. The same student used a bathroom in the nurse's office until he was comfortable in the boys bathroom. But if a student isn't comfortable using a gender-specific bathroom or locker room, the school looks for other options, Conrey said.

Conrey said he does not know if there are any transgender students at Stevenson this year, but he has not heard of any complaints about the use of facilities by transgender students at the school.

In May, Round Lake Area Unit District 116 officials agreed to create more unisex bathrooms at the high school in response to a transgender student's request. Jonas Valentine, who graduated last year, pressed for more unisex washrooms through an online petition he launched. He started publicly identifying as a man in January 2015.

District 116 spokeswoman Heather Bennett said high school employees underwent training that pertained to gay, lesbian and transgender students; a transgender high school student was among the presenters.

Now, eight high school restrooms either are gender-neutral or available to students if they identify as boys or girls. The high school also has a daytime LGBTQ support group in addition to the after-school Gay Straight Alliance club.

“We're ahead of the game, at least when compared to other school districts,” Bennett said.

When Elgin Area School District U-46, the second-largest district in Illinois, had its first openly transgender student at Streamwood High School, it hired a trainer to heighten the staff's awareness, said spokeswoman Mary Fergus.

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 spokeswoman Jen Delgado said the district addresses locker room and bathroom access for each transgender student on a case-by-case basis and does not have a specific policy.

“We work with each of our transgender students and their families to determine and provide what the student is comfortable with, and follow guidance by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights,” Delgado said.

Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris on Monday said his district has had transgender students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Those students have been able to use the locker rooms and bathrooms of their choice, or a private area, and have not had any complaints or problems.

Maine Township High School District 207, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Community Unit District 300 and Glenbard High School District 87 either did not return calls for comment or said they would get back to the Daily Herald on Wednesday.

• Daily Herald staff writers Bob Susnjara, Russell Lissau, Eric Peterson and Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.

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