District 211 in Palatine, Illinois continues to be a battleground for the national debate on whether transgender students should be respected at school. Last week, a federal judge ruled against a group of parents that sued to try to reverse the district’s inclusive policies, claiming those policies were a threat to their children’s privacy. Meanwhile, however, it’s not clear the school is actually accommodating all transgender students as it purports to.
In 2015, a trans student filed a complaint against District 211 after she was prohibited from using bathrooms and locker rooms that matched her identity. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights agreed that the school was violating her rights, and the school eventually relented and agreed to a more inclusive policy. This infuriated a group of parents who believed that respecting transgender identities somehow posed a threat to the privacy of their children, so they teamed up with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group that campaigns against trans students rights across the country, to sue the school.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso, an Obama appointee, rejected the parents’ arguments. He relied on a precedent set last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — which includes Illinois — in a case upholding the right of Wisconsin student Ashton Whitaker to use the restrooms matching his gender at his school. The parents’ concern about privacy implications and “comingling the sexes,” Alonso wrote, “flies in the face of Whitaker.”
The school district in Whitaker unsuccessfully defended its policy with the same argument as Plaintiffs advance here, i.e., that allowing transgender students access to restrooms based on their gender identity infringes on the privacy rights of other students with whom they do not share biological anatomy. The Court here is similarly unpersuaded. This case does not involve the forced or extreme invasions of privacy that the courts addressed in the cases cited by Plaintiffs. Further, the restrooms at issue here have privacy stalls that can be used by students seeking an additional layer of privacy, and single-use facilities are also available upon request. Given these protections, there is no meaningful risk that a student’s unclothed body need be seen by any other person.
In other words, if kids actually feel uncomfortable being around a trans student, there are plenty of ways their privacy can be accommodated without segregating the trans students.
Alonso was likewise unpersuaded that those accommodations burdened the students in any way, even if it meant they made themselves late for class because they used remote facilities. Quite unlike situations when trans students have been forced to use isolated facilities — which in some cases are even kept locked, requiring a faculty member to access them — Alonso found no evidence that these students’ education suffered because they chose to use alternative facilities to avoid trans students.
He noted that in the past — before the precipitating events of the 2015 complaint — District 211 had actually allowed trans students to use facilities that matched their gender identities, without incident. “Either Student Plaintiffs did not notice that transgender students were using restrooms consistent with their gender identity, or they knew and tolerated it for several years,” he wrote.
ADF is considering an immediate appeal, with Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb claiming in a statement, “Parents have a right to protect their children’s privacy, and the district must listen to the parents and students they are paid to serve.”
Incidentally, despite the fact District 211 supposedly now has an inclusive policy, another transgender student, senior Nova Maday, filed a new suit against the school in November, arguing that she was denied access to the locker room consistent with her gender identity. Maday claims that despite the accommodations made for the other trans student two years earlier, she has since been forced to change for P.E. classes in a nurse’s office or remote private changing area. In response to the suit, the school insisted that all trans students who have requested access to facilities have received it.