District 211 transgender lawsuits go on past graduation

Lawsuits on both sides of the debate over transgender access to locker rooms in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 continue to linger in federal and state court, but will the graduations of students at the center of those cases change that?

Nova Maday, a transgender woman who in November sued the school district in state court seeking full access to the girls locker room at Palatine High School, graduated in May.

And three classes have graduated since local citizens group District 211 Students and Parents for Privacy, on behalf of 13 unnamed students, sued in federal court to stop a transgender student's restricted access to a Fremd High School girls locker room.

But both sides expect the cases to continue.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the issues being raised are complex and shouldn't be resolved by a clock. The ACLU is representing Maday in her lawsuit against District 211 and has intervened on the side of the school district in the Students and Parents for Privacy lawsuit.

Yohnka said Maday's suit remains relevant beyond her graduation because she is seeking damages for being denied access to the girls locker room. Maday was born male but identified as female for nearly all her time in high school.

Under a 2016 agreement with the federal government regarding Fremd High School, transgender students in District 211 were allowed access to the locker rooms of the gender they identified as, if they use a private changing stall. Such stalls were made available for all students.

Though Maday acknowledged the offer of restricted access, she declined to use it.

Attorneys for Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing District 211 Students and Parents for Privacy, could not be reached for comment last week.

But a year ago, ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said the case is pertinent beyond the graduation of a particular student.

The guiding legal principle in such cases is "capable of repetition yet evading review," he said.

This means the merits of the legal issue should be argued regardless of whether specific circumstances have changed or ended.

It's a principle often applied to school cases in which particular students come and go quickly, but the legal issues they generate could be seen again, McCaleb said.

Maday said her lawsuit will impact younger students.

"I personally know a lot of students who would benefit," she said. "They're currently changing in nurses' offices."

She added that while it took an emotional toll to sue her school district, she's experienced nothing but support from classmates and teachers.

"There's not a thing I regret, but I wish I hadn't had to do it," Maday said.

Shortly after Maday's lawsuit was filed, District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates stated that it misrepresented the accommodations extended to her and the district's overall approach to working with and supporting transgender students.

Cates added that the Illinois Department of Human Rights had already dismissed the case, stating there was no evidence of discrimination.

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