Legal fees on transgender case irk Dist. 211 resident

  • Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 has spent $80,897 so far on legal fees in an ongoing case involving a transgender student's access to a girls' locker room.

      Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 has spent $80,897 so far on legal fees in an ongoing case involving a transgender student's access to a girls' locker room. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/20/2015 4:40 PM

A Schaumburg woman who serves as a high school social worker in another district is criticizing Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 for the legal fees it's spending in a fight over a transgender student's access to locker rooms.

District resident Tracey Salvatore requested records of the district's legal fees in recent years and recognized a steep increase in the past two years. In budget year 2013, the district had a legal budget of $260,000. It lowered to $180,000 in 2014 before rising to $435,000 in 2015 and $450,000 in 2016.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The case wasn't a major factor in the increase, though, according to district officials. Over the course of the past three budget years, District 211 has spent $80,897 on legal fees in the case, with another $1,759.26 spent on locker room modifications.

District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen said each year's legal budget is based on the actual expenditures of the year before. Legal costs can rise and fall significantly from year to year based on such factors as contract and personnel issues, property tax appeals, special education hearings and bond matters, along with other basic legal questions.

When the transgender student's complaint was first filed during budget year 2014, $62,753 in district legal costs were generated that year. That fell to $203 in budget year 2015 and has risen to $17,941 in budget year 2016.

Salvatore said spending more money on legal fees in the case is unjustified since the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights found District 211's position doesn't comply with the federal Title IX law prohibiting sex discrimination.

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"My opinion is the district is being fiscally irresponsible," Salvatore said. "They lost and it's time to move on. If they continue on this road, it's going to be a long road."

The district's policy is to provide a separate changing area within the girls' locker room that the transgender student is required to use. The OCR ruled that anything other than unrestricted access to the girls' locker room is unlawful discrimination.

The district has until early December to comply with federal regulations or face enforcement action, which could include the loss of some or all of its Title IX funding, which last year was $6 million.

District 211 so far hasn't shown any interest in settling, instead issuing a statement disputing the ruling and stating confidence in the legality of its policies.

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