Feds find Dist. 211 transgender policy discriminatory
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 is violating the anti-discriminatory Title IX law by denying a transgender student who identifies as female unrestricted access to a girls' locker room, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ruled Monday.
The OCR issued a letter informing District 211 that it has 30 days to conform with the office's understanding of Title IX requirements or face enforcement action.
"All students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities -- this is a basic civil right," Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, Township High School District 211 is not following the law because the district continues to deny a female student the right to use the girls' locker room. The district can provide access to this student while also respecting all students' privacy. We encourage the district to comply with the law and resolve this case."
The exact nature of an enforcement action was not immediately clear Monday, but school officials admit their position could cost the district some or all of its Title IX funding. Last year, the district received $6 million in Title IX money.
Under its policy, District 211 is providing a separate changing area for transgender students within the locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.
District 211 released a written statement Monday disputing the OCR ruling and stating confidence in the legality of its policies.
"The policy that OCR seeks to impose on District 211 is a serious overreach with precedent-setting implications," the statement reads. "District 211 continues to believe that what we offer is reasonable and honors every student's dignity. While the district will continue what have been productive settlement negotiations with OCR, the district is prepared to engage in all avenues of due process to determine whether our position of honoring the rights of all the students is within the law.
"We celebrate and honor differences among all students and we condemn any vitriolic messages that disparage transgender identity or transgender students in any way," the district's statement continues. "We believe that this particular moment can be one of unification as we strive to create environments that ensure sensitivity, inclusiveness and dignity for ALL students."
The OCR became involved last year when a District 211 student who has identified as female for several years filed a complaint about the district limiting her access to locker rooms. Through her representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union, the student said the OCR ruling made Monday a good day for all students.
"This decision makes me extremely happy -- because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others," the statement reads. "The district's policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a 'normal' person.
"The Department of Education's decision makes clear that what my school did was wrong," the student continued. "I hope no other student, anywhere, is forced to confront this indignity. It is a good day for all students, but especially those who are transgender all across the nation."
John Knight, director of the LGBT & HIV Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said the student only wants to be treated like any other student.
"The district's insistence on separating my client from other students is blatant discrimination," Knight said in a written statement. "Rather than approaching this issue with sensitivity and dignity, the district has attempted to justify its conduct by challenging my client's identity as a girl."
Knight said very few students fully undress in locker rooms these days, and that even when changing into or out of bathing suits there are measures that can be taken -- as with a towel -- to protect their privacy without having to be in an entirely separated space.