How One Illinois School Really, Really Wants To Discriminate Against A Trans Student

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/RAFAEL FERNANDEZ TORRES
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/RAFAEL FERNANDEZ TORRES

District 211, located in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, approved an agreement last week with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to accommodate a transgender student’s use of the locker room, but that agreement might soon fall apart.

District officials attempted to spin the agreement to suggest that they had succeeded in forcing the trans student — and no one else — to use a privacy curtain in the locker room. Though the student is willing to use the curtain, OCR had specifically identified this as an unacceptable requirement and responded to the district’s announcements that its interpretation was incorrect. The district countered that it might then back out of the agreement entirely, which would once again endanger its federal funding.

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, District 211 expressed “outrage over bad faith actions” by OCR, accusing OCR spokesperson Catherine Lhamon of “blatant disregard for the facts of the negotiated agreement.” According to the release, if the student does not use the privacy curtain, “access will no longer be allowed” to the locker room.

It is wrong, it is an act of bad faith, and our school district will not let it stand.

The district claimed that it asked OCR for a “full retraction of their inaccurate portrayal of the agreement,” but “they refused.” An emergency board meeting has been called to “discuss taking action, including the potential retraction of the agreement because the OCR acted in bad faith.”

“Citizens have a right to expect more from a federal agency than smoke and mirrors.”

The ACLU, which is representing the transgender student who filed the complaint, countered that it was actually District 211 that acted in bad faith. After all, OCR had made it clear in its letter that requiring the student to use the privacy curtain was not acceptable because it still treated her differently from other students, so it makes no sense that the district would think that such a requirement would be acceptable to meet OCR’s concerns.

“After being caught in their repeated misrepresentations of this matter over several weeks,” the ACLU wrote, “it is strange to see the District accuse someone else of acting in ‘bad faith’ and engaging in ‘smoke and mirrors.’ It is time to end this hostile and cynical public relations campaign and for the leadership of District 211 to create an open and welcoming environment for all students — as other school districts in Illinois and the nation have already done.”

District 211 has scheduled its “emergency meeting” for Monday night. One of the items on the agenda is to “consider nullification of prior vote approving draft resolution agreement with Office for Civil Rights.”

The meeting will include an open comment session, which will likely be utilized by “D211 Parents for Privacy,” a group that insists that bathrooms and locker rooms be separated “by anatomy.” They are calling for the Board to adopt a model policy developed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBT legal group, that prohibits any integration for transgender students. ADF sent the district a letter in October insisting it need not abide OCR’s expectations.

Update:

The school board decided Monday night not to take any additional action, maintaining the agreement with OCR that it approved last week.

In a statement provided to ThinkProgress, board president Mucia Burke explained, “We believe this is the best course of action for this student while balancing the needs of all the teenage students in our District.”