LGBT

An Illinois School’s Odd Plan To Quit Sex Discrimination While Pretending Not To

CREDIT: Shutterstock/B Brown

Illinois school District 211, located in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, has agreed to accommodate a transgender student’s equal use of sex-segregated locker rooms, but it seems they don’t want anybody to actually think so.

In fact, initial news reports Thursday about the district’s agreement with the Department of Education were confused about what exactly had been agreed too. The ACLU, which represented the student who filed the complaint, similarly expressed disappointment that it sounded like the Department of Education had caved on its expectations for the accommodation. The actual agreement is worded oddly enough that it lends credence to the school’s claim that it won — it just isn’t true.

The complaint was a simple request that the transgender student — whose identity was otherwise recognized — also be allowed to use the same restrooms and locker rooms as other students. The district took an incredibly defensive posture before the Department of Education had publicly even announced that it was in violation of Title IX’s nondiscrimination protections based on sex. “This is about matters of student privacy,” Superintendent Dan Cates said in October, insisting the school would never allow trans students access to the open area of the locker room.

The Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) report came out a few weeks later, outlining the systematic way the district’s limitations had ostracized the student and burdened her educational experience. District 211 had offered to let the student use the locker room if she — and only she — was required to use a privacy curtain, a provision that OCR found insufficient because it still singled out the student for different treatment. The district had 30 days to comply or risk losing federal funding.

That’s why it was odd that the district claimed that the agreement the school board approved still required the trans student to use a separate changing area. Cates asserted in his statement the following:

Let me emphasize — consistent with our stated position throughout this matter, if the transgender student seeks access to the locker room, the student will not be granted unrestricted access and will utilize a private changing station whenever changing clothes or showering.

In a similar letter to parents, he explained, “a transgender student in a locker room will not have unrestricted access and will use private changing areas when changing clothes or using a shower.”

The wording of the actual agreement, however, undermines this claim. The school is not actually requiring the student to use the privacy curtain as a condition of access to the locker room — OCR made it clear that would not suffice. Instead, the agreement hedges on the fact that the transgender student has volunteered to use the privacy curtain.

Specifically:

Based on Student A’s representation that she will change in private changing stations in the girls’ locker rooms, the District agrees to provide Student A access to locker room facilities designated for female students at school and to take steps to protect the privacy of its students by installing and maintaining sufficient privacy curtains (private changing stations) within the girls’ locker rooms to accommodate Student A and any students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing.

Nothing in the agreement supports Cates’ claim that if the student decides not to use the privacy curtain, she will be removed form the locker room. But the district is standing by this claim. Should that happen, in fact, it would likely be a violation of the agreement and would warrant OCR intervening again. But district spokesperson Tom Petersen insisted to the Daily Herald, “If she does not change in private changing stations, the agreement does not require the district to give access.”

The ACLU is pleased with the agreement. John Knight, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, expressed his disappointment, however, in “the district’s efforts to misrepresent the nature of the agreement.”

Another aspect of the district’s interpretation of the agreement is that it only applies to the specific student who filed the complaint, not any other transgender students who might encounter the same administrative hurdles. Though parts of the agreement discuss accommodations specific to “Student A,” the agreement also requires the district to draft “a revised notice of nondiscrimination” demonstrating its ongoing compliance with Title IX. This notice, which must state “that the District does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its educational program or activities,” would apply to all students.

OCR officials have clarified that regardless of what the district says, the student can exercise any degree of privacy that she wishes, and the policy does, in fact, apply to everyone.

It could be that the district is simply trying to appease an outspoken group of parents opponents of transgender inclusion, known as “D211 Parents for Privacy.” They argued that the district should not agree to anything, and they responded with angry shouting after the school board’s 5-2 vote approving the agreement. The board and school administrators abruptly left the meeting after police officers moved between the two groups.