District 211 sued over transgender student's locker room access
Some Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 students and their parents are suing the school district and U.S. Department of Education in federal court, claiming an agreement allowing a transgender student limited access to the girls locker room at Fremd High School violates their civil rights.
The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, asks a judge to order District 211 to reverse its policy allowing the student access to the girls locker room and rule that the Department of Education is misinterpreting Title IX -- the federal law barring sex discrimination in education -- to cover gender identity.
"The Locker Room Agreement and Restroom Policy, which open the girls' restrooms and locker rooms to biological males, is harassment based on the girls' sex," the suit alleges. "Moreover, both male and female student plaintiffs experience humiliation, anxiety, intimidation, fear, apprehension, stress, degradation, and loss of dignity as a result of the Locker Room Agreement and/or Restroom Policy permitting the opposite sex to be in locker rooms and restrooms designated for their biological sex."
The lead plaintiffs in the suit include a group called Parents for Privacy, which formed last year to oppose the district's policy regarding the transgender student at Fremd, along with 13 students identified only by their initials. According to the suit, 63 of Parents for Privacy's 136 members are students, 26 of whom either currently attend Fremd or will beginning next year.
"We do sympathize with children who have difficult personal issues to deal with, to work through," Parents for Privacy member Vicki Wilson said. "But young men shouldn't be permitted to deal with those issues in intimate settings with young girls, some as young as 14."
The U.S. Department of Justice joins District 211 and the Department of Education as defendants in the lawsuit.
District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates issued a statement later Wednesday saying the district "affirms and supports the identity of all our students."
"The district has faithfully honored our agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, and our students have shown acceptance, support and respect of each other," the statement continues. "We have implemented the agreement without any reports of incident or issue. Individual changing stalls in our locker rooms are readily available to every student, and further accommodations that provide even greater privacy remain available upon request."
The ACLU -- which represented the student in her fight to locker room access -- also issued a statement, calling the lawsuit "a sad development by groups opposed to fair and humane treatment of all students, including those who are transgender."
"We expect that today's lawsuit will meet the same unsuccessful end as the previous efforts to peddle fear and divisiveness," the ACLU statement reads. "We are confident that fairness for students who are transgender will prevail."
Sparked by the federal complaint of a transgender student, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights determined last fall that District 211's practice of having the student change clothes in a separate area for gym class and sports was discriminatory because it treated the student differently from other girls. The transgender student was born male but identifies as female.
The OCR stated that if District 211 did not change its practice, it could risk losing approximately $6 million in federal funding each year.
District 211 proposed a compromise in which the student would be allowed in the girls locker room as long as she always used a private changing stall. An agreement to that effect was approved in early December by a 5-2 vote of the District 211 school board.
Additional privacy stalls were installed in the locker room for other students to use if they wish.
But representatives of Parents for Privacy and New Hope Community Church in Palatine have continued to speak out against the agreement at school board meetings, arguing that it infringes on privacy rights of other students.
Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit acknowledges the presence of privacy stalls but argues that they're inadequate. The law dictates that privacy begins at the locker room door, not at the stalls within, he said.
Though District 211 has transgender students at all five of its high schools, the OCR agreement applies only to the student who filed the complaint and will expire when she graduates. Tedesco said the plaintiffs will seek a preliminary injunction to reverse the district policy for the year remaining before the student graduates.
The district's administrative board policy group last week recommended against adopting a districtwide policy on transgender access to locker rooms and restrooms. Representatives said any policy not fully endorsed by the OCR would put the district back in the same position it was in before the December agreement.
Meanwhile, the district is continuing its practice of finding special accommodations for students that request them on a case-by-case basis.