U-46 releases guidelines for supporting transgender students
Elgin Area School District U-46 has released guidelines to support transgender students on the heels of two heated meetings where parents criticized the district for not informing them of transgender accommodations.
The district has allowed, as of Sept. 6, a transgender middle school student use of the locker room and restroom corresponding with the student's gender identity at the same time as other students. Previous practice allowed transgender students to change in the locker room of their choice when other students weren't present.
"That decision was made in consultation with the staff at the school, our attorney, and senior administration," CEO Tony Sanders wrote in a Facebook post where he shared the guidelines. "We could have done a better job communicating the change; however, at the time my immediate focus was on responding to the needs of the student. I hope these guidelines assist in alleviating the fears of some community members."
Sanders wrote the district does not allow students to enter a locker room or restroom on a whim and the guidelines provide "a common-sense approach for any future instances when a transgender student requests accommodations."
There are transgender students at the elementary, middle and high school levels, but Sanders couldn't tell how many there are among the 40,000 students districtwide.
When the district got its first request for accommodating the transgender middle school student at the start of the school year, there were no established guidelines.
"We contacted other districts and national experts, and worked with that student and the family," Sanders said.
That resulted in the guidelines now established.
Among concerns parents and others have expressed are fears every locker room and restroom is now coed and any male can dress as a female and walk into a restroom or locker room.
"It isn't like that at all," Sanders said, saying it's not a "free-for-all."
The guidelines address the needs and concerns of transgender students and gender expansive students -- also known as gender nonconforming, gender variant or gender creative, referring to people whose gender expression does not follow social expectations or stereotypes based on their sex at birth -- on a case-by-case basis.
A student 18 or older or a parent/guardian of a minor student must make a written request for any accommodations and the school's principal will inform the district support committee to develop a student support plan.
Sanders will appoint members of the committee comprising an assistant superintendent, principal, the chief legal officer and director of plant operations.
A student who wants added privacy will be provided reasonable alternative arrangements, including use of a private area, a separate changing schedule, or a single-stall restroom, per the guidelines.
"I know there's challenges across the country about the U.S. Department of Civil Rights and the mandate they have shared with school districts," Sanders said.
"The state of Illinois has very similar language about not discriminating against transgender students. Our board policy states we do not discriminate based on a student's gender status. We're here to just serve kids. We will try to meet the unique needs of kids that come through our doors."