Dist. 211, ACLU interpret transgender student's deal differently

This story was updated Dec. 4 to correct how events unfurled immediately after the board vote, a period when the reporter was out of the room calling in the vote result.

A transgender student's representatives at the American Civil Liberties Union say Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 officials are misrepresenting an agreement with the Department of Education in an attempt to build stronger public support for it.

Nevertheless, District 211 officials say they stand by their statements that the agreement limits the transgender student's access to girls' locker rooms, district spokesman Tom Petersen said.

"If you read the agreement, it is clear that it only requires measures for one individual student," he said. "The agreement does not require unrestricted access to locker room facilities. The district continues to maintain that the law allows common sense solutions like ensuring student privacy with private changing stations for changing clothes and showering.

"The student's access to to the locker room is contingent on her agreement to change in private changing stations," Petersen said. "If she does not change in private changing stations, the agreement does not require the district to give access."

But the ACLU, after initially describing the agreement as a disappointment Thursday morning, later claimed it as a victory for the student.

"On behalf of our client and her family, we are pleased that the Department of Education has affirmed that District 211 must provide a safe and respectful environment for all students, including those who are transgender," John Knight, director of the LGBT & HIV Project at the ACLU, wrote in a statement.

"Although we are disappointed in the district's efforts to misrepresent the nature of the agreement, we encourage it to seize this moment, and take a leadership role in helping residents and students in District 211 to learn about the discrimination and harassment facing transgender men and women and encourage fairness and tolerance for all persons, including those who are transgender."

A District 211 parents group and other like-minded individuals Thursday were angry that the agreement gives the student - who is anatomically male - greater access to a girls' locker room than they believe is legally required.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights last month declared the district's policy barring the transgender student from unrestricted access to a girls' locker room is a violation of the Title IX law that prohibits sex discrimination. Weeks of negotiation between the two parties followed, resulting in the agreement approved by the school board about 1 a.m. Thursday after hours of public comment, followed by hours of closed-session board deliberation.

The agreement says the district will provide a separate changing area for the student - which she can choose to use - while also guaranteeing that students throughout the district will be able to choose from a variety of options for greater locker room privacy.

Though District 211 proposed the option of providing a separate changing area within the locker room for weeks, it did not officially adopt that measure until the agreement was signed Thursday, said Catherine E. Lhamon, the Department of Education's assistant secretary for civil rights. That change enabled the OCR to reach agreement with the district a month after finding its policy out of compliance with federal law, she said.

Lhamon said district officials misspoke by indicating the agreement pertains to only one student and limits that student's access to locker rooms.

At a special board of education meeting that started Wednesday night, nearly 40 people spoke against the transgender student's access to girls' locker rooms.

Many called on the board to reject any agreement at all, even before knowing what it might be. Among them was Vicki Wilson of Palatine, founder of the new group District 211 Parents for Privacy.

She argued that case law would have been on the district's side if it denied the transgender student any access to the girls' locker room.

Wilson said she believes the board's 5-2 vote in favor of the agreement was a failure to represent the majority of residents who spoke Wednesday.

The votes against the agreement came from board members Peter Dombrowski, who called into the meeting from out of town, and Lauanna Recker.

The agreement requires the district to engage one or more third-party consultants with expertise in adolescent gender identity issues to assist in implementing its terms.

It also eliminates any potential threat to the district's approximately $6 million in federal Title IX funding, which district officials acknowledged they were risking by the defying the findings of the OCR. And it removes allegations District 211 is violating anti-discrimination laws.

Superintendent Dan Cates had intended to read from a written statement after the vote, which he said he believed would better clarify the agreement. However, board President Mucia Burke adjourned the meeting immediately after the vote.

Angry shouting from audience members accompanied board members and administrators as they abruptly left the cafeteria of Conant High School in Hoffman Estates while police officers moved between the two groups.

In his statement, Cates wrote: "Let me emphasize - consistent with our stated position throughout this matter, if the transgender student seeks access to the locker room, the student will not be granted unrestricted access and will utilize a private changing station whenever changing clothes or showering.

"The measures we have proposed for our locker rooms protect student privacy," Cates continued. "Every school district with whom we have consulted that has supported access to locker rooms by transgender students has also effectively utilized similar individual privacy measures. And, all of these districts have reported that their students participate fully in both sports and educational programs without disruption. Full student participation is our goal and expectation with these measures in place."

District 211 transgender student's mom now happy with agreement

  Joseph Qian of Palatine reacts negatively to the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 school board vote early Thursday in favor of an agreement allowing a transgender student's use of a private changing area in a girls' locker room. Joe Lewnard/
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