District 211 decides against written policy on transgender access
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211's administrative board policy group has recommended the district not create a written policy on transgender students' access to restrooms and locker rooms but stick to today's case-by-case handling of such special accommodation requests.
The recommendation came after the committee of school board members and administrators spent 2½ months researching other policies, practices, legislation and litigation on the topic across the country and found no consensus of opinion.
District 211 became the center of the national debate on the issue last fall after a transgender student filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights seeking unrestricted access to a girls locker room.
The OCR ruled that anything short of unrestricted access to the locker room of the gender one identifies with represented unlawful discrimination. But District 211 reached an agreement with the federal agency that allowed locker room access to this specific student -- who was born male but identifies as female -- as long as she always uses a private changing stall.
Additional stalls were made available for other students to use if they choose.
District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates said any written policy not fully endorsed by the OCR would put the district back in the same position it was in before it reached the agreement regarding the student who filed the complaint.
Cates added that the district handles such a wide variety of special accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis that he saw little reason to create a specific category for transgender students' access to locker rooms.
In virtually every case, the district has been able to accommodate such requests without a student and his or her family having to appeal to a higher authority, he said.
Board member Pete Dombrowski, one of two board members to vote against the OCR agreement last December, specifically requested the research into a districtwide policy in February.
At Thursday night's board meeting, Dombrowski said he understood there was no consensus on the issue and that there was a risk in trying to take the lead on it. But he said he felt families new to the district should have its practices spelled out in writing, even if only to explain that such requests would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Cates said the responsibility for making a special accommodation request has always been on the family of a student in need of one, and it was far from the district's experience that anyone would not recognize that without a written policy.
Board President Mucia Burke said the committee bounced the idea around but found no way of having a written policy that would please everyone -- including the OCR and the critics of its position.
"Every student has a right to feel comfortable," Burke said.
If a student can't be comfortable in the generally used facilities, the district can make other arrangements as long as it's not boxed in by an unbreakable policy, she said.