Illinois school district OKs deal over locker room access

Updated 12/3/2015 5:23 PM

CHICAGO -- Hours after a suburban Chicago school district approved a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education that allowed a transgender student to use a girls' locker room, district and federal officials were at odds over what the agreement meant.

Township High School District 211 Superintendent Daniel Cates said Thursday after the school board's vote that the deal applies solely to one transgender student, hinges on her using privacy curtains in the locker room and does not require a districtwide policy.


"That's a mischaracterization," Education Department Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The deal instead applies to all of the district's students, not just to the student who filed the complaint, Lhamon said. And it requires the district to revise an annual notice of nondiscrimination to say it does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its educational programs or activities, she said.

What's more, the federal government said, the agreement allows a transgender student to use a girls' locker room and does not require her to use a privacy curtain, although the student has said she will do so.

Cates disagreed, telling the AP in an email Thursday the "student's access to the locker room is contingent on her agreement to change in private changing stations. If she does not change in private changing stations, the agreement does not require the District to allow access."

The school board's vote came after federal officials ruled last month that the district violated federal law by not permitting the student, who was born male and identifies as female, full access to the locker room.

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The student had filed a federal complaint against the district with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU of Illinois initially said the settlement the school board approved fell short if it applied only to accommodations for one transgender student. After hearing the federal response Thursday, ACLU spokesman Edwin Yohnka said "we are pleased" the district "must provide a safe and respectful environment for all students, including those who are transgender," but "disappointed in the District's efforts to misrepresent the nature of the agreement."

The district had 30 days to change its policy following the Department of Education's Nov. 2 finding, or risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

The transgender student has not been identified and wants to remain anonymous. She has been living as a girl since middle school, has changed her legal name, obtained a passport as a female, received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and is taking female hormones, according to the Department of Education's summary of its investigation.

Federal officials plan to monitor the district for compliance with the agreement and for any gender-based discrimination through at least June 30, 2017, Lhamon said.

"If they have not fulfilled the terms of the agreement, we will not go away," Lhamon said.

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