U-46 school board stands behind transgender locker room access

  • Jeanette Ward

    Jeanette Ward

  • Traci O'Neal Ellis

    Traci O'Neal Ellis

 
 
Updated 10/4/2016 7:38 PM

Elgin schools officials say they won't reverse a decision to provide locker room and restroom access to transgender students based on their gender preferences.

A majority of Elgin Area School District U-46 board members said they agree with the administration's decision after a third heated meeting Monday during which dozens of parents objected to the special accommodation for transgender students.

 

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.

The number of transgender students districtwide is unknown.

Many parents cited privacy and safety concerns and made religious arguments against allowing transgender students in locker rooms and bathrooms not corresponding to their biological sex. They also criticized the district for not informing parents ahead of time of such a change.

Kim Onufrock of Wayne said discussion has degraded on both sides.

"I don't think either side is going to change the mind of the other by arguing in this forum," she said. She called for gender-neutral locker rooms and restrooms for transgender students as a possible solution that would make both sides happy.

Speakers supporting transgender students objected to their vilification by some commenters who've called them an "abomination" and their lifestyle "demonic activity."

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"This issue is getting super twisted," said Erinn Kelly, 12, who attends Tefft Middle School in Streamwood. "It is embarrassing you are making them change in a locker room that they don't identify with."

Some parents blamed the federal government for scaring school districts nationwide with the threat of withholding Title IX funds if they don't comply with its directive on transgender accommodations as spelled out in a May letter from the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

"It's a federal form of bullying," said Jason Walker of Elgin, who accused district leaders of not having "the guts" to stand up to a federal bully. "Last time I checked, our kids belong to us, not the government."

U-46 CEO Tony Sanders recently released guidelines to support transgender students hoping it would alleviate fears and acknowledged the district could have done a better job communicating the change.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

School board member Jeanette Ward said the guidelines favor one group while dismissing another and suggested suspending the accommodation for transgender students until the issue is resolved in court.

Lawsuits have been filed by parents against Palatine-Schaumburg Township High School District 211 over transgender locker room access. Several states have also contested the federal directive.

"I believe we should take a step back ... until this national issue has worked it's way through our legal system and we more thoroughly consider how we may satisfy all of our constituents' concerns," Ward said.

Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said a public school board does not make decisions based on religion and she would never support "the marginalization and oppression of another minority group."

"I am not persuaded by the Christians who have come before me with hate and vileness," Ellis said. "This is not a Christian school district."

School board member Veronica Noland said people who have opposed transgender access based on religion represent a "narrow ideology."

"I will not condone name-calling. I will not equate our students as being evil," she said.

She said if parents don't like district policies they could vote for new school board members or run for office themselves in April.

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