District 15 superintendent: Transgender policy rooted in anti-discrimination laws

  • Gearah Goldstein, a transgender woman, addresses a group of about 150 people who came to support transgender students in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Wednesday night outside Sundling Junior High School in Palatine.

      Gearah Goldstein, a transgender woman, addresses a group of about 150 people who came to support transgender students in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Wednesday night outside Sundling Junior High School in Palatine. Doug T. Graham | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/10/2017 6:31 AM

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson on Thursday clarified the district's policy and practice regarding transgender students' access to bathrooms and locker rooms.

His statement followed a public debate at Wednesday night's school board meeting between supporters and critics of the policy. The issue drew a huge crowd as people on both sides rallied their supporters.


"If we have a transgender student in one of our schools who wishes to use a bathroom or locker room of his/her identified gender, we have established stalls in every bathroom and privacy screens in our locker rooms for any student who wishes to use them," Thompson said in a written statement. "We have also identified private bathrooms and changing rooms in all of our junior highs for any student who wants privacy in these two areas (for any reason)."

Thompson further explained that the district's policy and practice are rooted in anti-discrimination laws.

"The district is bound to follow federal and state laws regarding the treatment of students," he wrote. "Illinois law requires the school district prevent any discrimination on basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, language, disability, sexual orientation, age or any other legally protected characteristic (including transgender students)."

Though transgender access has been hotly debated for the past 17 months in the same area's Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, there had been no similar conversation in District 15 until the two opposing factions spoke out at Wednesday's school board meeting.

As such, it introduced a new issue into the already tumultuous election in which nine candidates are seeking four 4-year terms on the school board while two more are vying for a single 2-year seat on April 4.

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On Wednesday night, board President Peggy Babcock, who is running for re-election, read a statement on behalf of the entire board -- including fellow incumbent candidates Gerald Chapman and James Ekeberg -- supporting the district's practices, which she said were adopted over a period of years after multiple public readings.

Babcock personally added Thursday: "Any accommodations that are made for any student are done with the utmost respect for the privacy of every student. As was stated so eloquently last evening by a brave young man who happens to be transgender, 'I am just a person.'"

Ekeberg added: "As a school board member you take an oath of office to uphold the laws of the state of Illinois. Our attorney has advised us our policy is in line with the laws of the state of Illinois."

A statement on behalf of a slate of candidates including Michael Smolka, Frank J. Annerino, Anthony Wang and Lisa Beth Szczupaj in the 4-year race and Barbara A. Kain in the 2-year race was released by spokeswoman Melanie Santostefano.


"Our candidates are actively soliciting input from our community to ensure we reflect their wishes; this policy comes as a complete surprise to countless parents and residents who learned about it through the March 9, 2017, article in the Daily Herald," the statement reads. "To our knowledge ... (this) is the first occasion this policy has been publicly acknowledged by District 15.

"With the underlying goal of engaging, understanding and representing the viewpoints of our entire community, we cannot take a position on this issue, at this time. We respect the policies that ensure all students in our school district feel safe, and that our schools are free from bullying and discrimination."

Adam Bauske, an independent candidate for a 4-year seat, said: "I believe the district must follow all laws and guidelines at the local, state and national level, which includes preventing discrimination. The district has had a policy in place for many years that upholds these laws and guidelines.

"I believe our schools, parents and students should encourage acceptance, support and respect for each other," Bauske added. "If elected to the board, I would review any policy changes presented, and make sure decisions are fully vetted and in accordance with the law. I want our schools and community to be welcoming and a safe environment for all."

Dave Border, the independent candidate in the 2-year race, said: "I continue to get educated on this issue, but the fundamental premise is that the district and board must follow all laws, which the current policy does.

"I believe in supporting and advocating for the rights of all students, to privacy as well as to respect and dignity," he added, quoting from his response to a questionnaire from the citizens group Parents for Privacy. "There are many sides to this issue and I want to listen to the community and process the feedback before simply saying yes or no to a specific position statement."

Asad "Sid" Aman, an independent candidate in the 4-year race, could not be reached Thursday.

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