Dist. 211 reaffirms transgender locker room deal

 
 
Updated 12/8/2015 1:08 AM
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  • Students and parents packed Conant High School Monday night for a new discussion about a settlement to the long-running dispute over a transgender student's access to locker rooms, during the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 school board meeting.

      Students and parents packed Conant High School Monday night for a new discussion about a settlement to the long-running dispute over a transgender student's access to locker rooms, during the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 school board meeting. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Superintendent Daniel Cates listens to members of the public speak during a School District 211 meeting at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates Monday night as the board addressed a recent agreement made with the Office of Civil Rights on a private changing area for a transgender high school student.

      Superintendent Daniel Cates listens to members of the public speak during a School District 211 meeting at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates Monday night as the board addressed a recent agreement made with the Office of Civil Rights on a private changing area for a transgender high school student. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Desiree Galeski of Chicago, who identified herself as a transgender student, waits to speak during the meeting at Conant High School.

      Desiree Galeski of Chicago, who identified herself as a transgender student, waits to speak during the meeting at Conant High School. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board members Monday quietly reaffirmed an agreement with the federal government over a transgender student's access to a girls locker room after resolving a difference of opinion on its interpretation.

The decision to take no further action on the settlement came after another lengthy closed executive session, which followed another two-hour public-comment session -- this one in front of about 600 people and including much support for the transgender student and the agreement the district and a federal agency reached to accommodate her.

The agreement between the district and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights allows the student access to a girls locker room with a separate changing area.

"We believe this is the best course of action for this student while balancing the needs of all the teenage students in our district," school board President Mucia Burke said after the board emerged from about the two-hour closed session. "The district will accommodate gender-identified locker room access for this student predicated on agreement to use the privacy measures provided.

"We are installing privacy curtains in our locker rooms, with the assurance that this student will use them," she said.

About three-fourths of the 39 people speaking publicly at the meeting spoke in support of the transgender student or the agreement. The dissenters called for the agreement to be rescinded.

Last Wednesday, a majority of speakers spoke against the agreement as an unnecessary compromise for the district. Monday's speakers were chosen by lottery within a two-hour time limit.

Some who couldn't speak Monday complained that many who did clearly identified themselves as living outside the district. One man was ejected from the meeting after not yielding that point.

The founder of a group of parents against the agreement said after the meeting she was still disappointed with the outcome.

"This proves that some things that are this important should be put before the public as a direct vote because it's clear this board didn't listen to the majority of the community," said Vicki Wilson, of District 211 Parents for Privacy.

Earlier Monday, the U.S. Department of Education on Monday changed course again, saying it now concurs with the school district's interpretation of the agreement it made with the Office of Civil Rights, according to a letter the district received Monday from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

In the letter, Lhamon wrote, "As to the specific questions raised in your email, the agreement provisions specific to locker room access apply only to Student A and the District's agreement to provide Student A access to locker rooms is based on the student's representation that she will change in private changing stations."

In an interview with the Daily Herald last Thursday, Lhamon said she disagreed with that interpretation and instead believed the resolution granted the District 211 transgender student unrestricted access to the locker rooms of her identified gender.

District 211 officials insisted that the transgender student who filed the federal complaint would not be granted unrestricted access to the girls' locker room due to the student's having male anatomy.

The district threatened Friday to reconsider the controversial agreement because it and the Office for Civil Rights couldn't then agree on how it should be interpreted.

The agreement, according to the district, applies only to that one student, not any other transgender students.

The student's representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois have argued that the agreement allows the district to provide a separate changing area but gives the student a choice of whether to use it. Based on their conversations with the Department of Education last week, ACLU officials also came to believe the agreement applies districtwide and not just to one student.

"The OCR found that denying our client access to the locker room was a violation of Title IX," ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said Monday. "It's hard for me to believe that if another student came to them and wanted access, that OCR would abandon them and represent only our client. It doesn't seem reasonable."

Yohnka added that the value of the agreement comes down to its implementation, and that if the district believes it can require the ACLU's client and no one else to use the privacy curtains in the locker room it strikes at the heart of what the original complaint was about.

"I don't know where that leaves us," Yohnka said.

Addressing the audience at Monday's meeting, District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates said: "Regardless of a student's gender identity, locker rooms are based on anatomy. The district has refused from the beginning to allow open access to students of the opposite anatomy. To us, this is simply a matter of common sense, especially when our students are teenagers.

"Throughout this matter, the district and the board of education have held that access to the locker room of their identity by transgender students would only be considered on the condition of ensuring privacy for all students," Cates said.

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