The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has formally issued a report finding Illinois’ largest school district in violation of Title IX for refusing a transgender student access to the girls’ locker rooms. District 211, located in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, has been defending its actions since news of its impasse with OCR first came to light several weeks ago.
The OCR report outlines the unique way the school has singled out the transgender student — whose name has been kept hidden. Incidentally, the district has recognized the student’s identity in almost all ways, including identifying her by her female name and pronouns, designating her as female in its computer system, and allowing her to use the girls’ restroom and participate in girls’ athletics. The district only drew the line at her access to locker rooms.
The district contended it based this decision “on the needs of all students,” suggesting that other female students’ have privacy concerns. “Permitting Student A to be present in the locker room,” it argued, “would expose female students to being observed in a state of undress by a biologically male individual.” Furthermore, it would be inappropriate because it “would expose female students as young as fifteen years of age to a biologically male body.”
OCR found these arguments unpersuasive. The district has already installed some privacy curtains in the locker room, and the student is willing to use them, but OCR opposes the district’s insistence on imposing a requirement on her — and only her — to use them. This is not required to address the district’s concerns, “because providing sufficient privacy curtain access to accommodate any students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing would allow for protection of all students’ rights in this context. Those female students wishing to protect their own private bodies from exposure to being observed in a state of undress by other girls in the locker rooms, including transgender girls, could change behind a privacy curtain.”
Singling out the student for exclusion from the locker room — forcing her to use other restrooms away from the gym, some of which were locked and required a staff person to open — negatively impacts her through stigma and ostracization. In contrast, allowing her access to the girls’ locker room doesn’t impose on any other girl, because the privacy curtains can be used by anybody.
Speaking through her attorneys at the ACLU, the student said, “This decision makes me extremely happy — because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others. The district’s policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a ‘normal person.’” She hopes that no other student “is forced to confront this indignity.”
Acknowledging that the school remains in violation of Title IX, the OCR report gives the District 30 days notice to resolve the complaint, following which the Department would then issue a Letter of Impending Enforcement Action outlining consequences for the district. Last year, District 211 received $6 million in federal funding, all of which could be cut — in addition to litigation.
Still, District 211 remains adamantly opposed to OCR’s requirements for Title IX compliance. Superintendent Daniel Cates called the decision “serious overreach with precedent-setting implications.” He believes that what the district offers “is reasonable and honors every student’s dignity” and insisted that “one’s gender is not the same as one’s anatomy.”
Contrary to Cates’ claims, the precedent has already been set. OCR has previously resolved two other complaints, both at schools in California. In both cases, the schools settled, agreeing to accommodations for the transgender students they had been discriminating against. The District 211 case is precedent-setting only because Cates’ district is the first to refuse to agree to OCR’s recommendation.