District 211 transgender students' use of locker rooms: Division, questions remain

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board members Thursday night raised questions in front of a divided crowd of about 100 as they discussed a proposed policy that would grant transgender students unrestricted locker-room access.

About 100 spectators attended Thursday night's session at District 211's headquarters in Palatine, but public comment was limited to 10 speakers who were assigned a number drawn at random, with a maximum three minutes to make their points.

Teri Paulson, music director at New Hope Community Church in Palatine, criticized the policy, saying it caters to the transgender population while ignoring other students.

“Let me be clear, I don't blame trans kids — not at all,” Paulson said. “They don't have enough life experience to recognize that they are being lied to and used by adults who are exploiting them for political gain. Board members supporting this policy have made themselves accomplices to this by reorganizing our schools around their irrational and immoral demands.”

However, District 211 resident Tracey Salvatore said she applauds the board for considering the policy.

“Our community is one of love and acceptance,” Salvatore said. “Continuing these fundamental values through full inclusion in our schools is essential.”

District 211 board members didn't vote on the tentative policy during the special meeting. Officials said the earliest the school board would receive the proposal for a formal vote would be Nov. 14.

Under the proposed policy, District 211 students would have equal access to all educational opportunities and facilities. Superintendent Dan Cates said many other districts have had a similar policy without problems.

“Students shall be treated and supported in a manner consistent with their gender identity, which shall include students having access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity,” the document says in part.

Officials said students could not independently decide to use a bathroom or locker room that does not align with their gender as reflected in District 211's official record.

District 211 board member Mark Cramer raised concerns about the policy and asked what would be done if parents requested an alternate locker space for a child and the student didn't use it. Cates responded that school employees would not track down the student and force the use of the locker space.

“There is an expectation the administration will act on the parents' decision, not the student's decision,” Cramer said.

Board member Kimberly Cavill said she backs the proposed policy as written.

“I think it's to the benefit not just of trans students or gender-non-conforming students; I think it's to the benefit of all students,” Cavill said.

Controversy erupted in November 2017 when Nova Maday, at the time a senior at Palatine High School, sued District 211, arguing that its practice of requiring transgender students to use provided privacy stalls while others don't have to is discriminatory.

Maday, who was born male but identifies as female, said she never used the locker room at Palatine High under the conditions it was offered her. The practice began nearly four years ago as a compromise after another teenager identified as Student A filed a federal complaint that the district banned transgender students from locker rooms altogether.

While Maday's lawsuit filed later in state court contended District 211's restricted access for transgender students was too little, a group called Students and Parents for Privacy filed a federal lawsuit in May 2016 arguing it was too much. The federal lawsuit was dropped in April, weeks after a judge dismissed portions of it.

Based on national research estimating about 0.6% of adults identify as transgender, officials said, that means District 211 would be expected to have roughly 70 such students. They said about a dozen pupils have identified as transgender and requested a formal support plan this year.

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  Sections of the crowd at Thursday's Palatine Schaumburg High School District 211 meeting show their support of a proposed policy that would allow transgender students to have unrestricted locker room access. Bob Susnjara/
  This side of the meeting room at Thursday's Palatine Schaumburg High School District 211 meeting did not back a proposed policy that would allow transgender students to have unrestricted locker room access. Bob Susnjara/
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