District 211 fulfills privacy requests as new transgender locker room policy begins

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 officials say they've fulfilled every request for additional locker room privacy they've received ahead of a new policy granting transgender students unrestricted access beginning Tuesday.

The board of education's 5-2 vote approving the policy in November was accompanied by a promise that students who asked for privacy beyond the stalls present in each locker room would get it.

District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen said 33 requests for additional privacy were received initially, but after discussions with district staff, 22 of them were voluntarily withdrawn by the families who'd made them.

Granting the requests that remained largely involved finding spaces other than the main locker rooms for those students to change clothes.

"It wasn't difficult to honor them," Petersen said.

Each of the district's five high schools has eight periods during which physical education or wellness classes are taught, he added.

For nearly four years, privacy stalls have been at the center of the district's efforts to accommodate transgender students in the locker rooms of the genders they identify as. Administrators also have noted that the locker rooms are no longer used by students to get completely undressed.

Vicki Wilson of Palatine, who co-founded the citizens group Students and Parents for Privacy four years ago, remains critical of District 211's approach.

"What the district is doing is completely downplaying their decision to make all the locker rooms coed," Wilson said. "And the options provided to the non-transgender students are not equal to all the options provided to the transgender students, and that's wrong."

Under the district's previous practice, all students had the right to use privacy stalls, but transgender students were required to.

But with a discrimination lawsuit pending against the district, Superintendent Dan Cates in September recommended adopting a policy that would lift that restriction.

After a few more meetings of public input and board discussion that demonstrated how divisive the issue continued to be, the board approved the policy two months ago, with members Mark Cramer and Pete Dombrowski dissenting.

Nova Maday, the 2018 Palatine High School graduate who filed the discrimination lawsuit during her senior year, expressed happiness and vindication over the policy's adoption in November, but her suit remains pending. Maday was classified as male at birth but has identified as female since just after starting high school. She said she never used the girls locker room at Palatine High School under the restricted conditions it was offered.

The practice of restricted access to locker rooms for transgender students came about in the autumn of 2015 as a compromise in District 211's disagreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

An earlier transgender student, identified only as Student A, filed a federal complaint based on her being barred from using a girls locker room. The Office for Civil Rights ruled that the practice was discriminatory and District 211 proposed the restricted-access compromise, which was accepted by both the Department of Education and Student A.

While Maday's lawsuit argues that the compromise remained discriminatory, Students and Parents for Privacy filed a federal lawsuit in the spring of 2016 arguing that it went too far toward violating the privacy rights of non-transgender students.

The citizens group dropped its lawsuit last April after a judge dismissed portions of it, but members became more vocal again during the fall after the policy of unrestricted access was proposed.

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