Civil Rights

Suburban Chicago school board OKs full locker room access for transgender student

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As potential litigation with the federal government loomed, a suburban Chicago school district early Thursday agreed to settle a civil rights complaint about not providing a transgender high school student unrestricted access to the girls locker room.

Both sides appear to have compromised to resolve the dispute in the groundbreaking case.

The settlement agreed to by Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Illinois, applies only to one unidentified student rather than establishing a district-wide policy. And, although the language of the settlement allows her full access to the girls locker room, she has agreed to use an area of the locker room that has curtains for privacy, according to the Chicago Tribune (reg. req.) and Reuters.

“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,” said Superintendent Daniel Cates in a written statement.

John Knight of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represented the student, said the settlement actually gives her unrestricted access. However, the language of the agreement notes that the district agreed to the pact based on the student’s representation that she will use the curtained area, Reuters reports.

The student at issue reportedly was born biologically male but now identifies as female.

The ACLU is disappointed with the settlement, Knight told the Tribune in a written statement, because it applies to only one individual. The group had hoped that an earlier ruling by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, requiring the school district to provide unrestricted access, would have a broader impact.

“Our client had the personal resources and parental support to fight for equal treatment and locker room access. Not every student does,” Knight wrote. “Districts that care about the safety and dignity of their transgender students make it clear up front that gender-appropriate restrooms and locker rooms are available, rather than putting the burden on transgender students to fight for what the law requires.”

Meanwhile, although some parents and students agreed with the school board majority’s decision, others at a special meeting that began Wednesday and ended Thursday spoke out in opposition before the 5-2 vote. A number focused on the privacy of fellow students.

“How do we teach our kids that sexting is wrong and nudity is wrong and pornography is wrong, yet it’s OK to see the opposite sex in your locker room if they feel this way?” said parent Jennifer Soloway, who expressed concern that the curtained portion of the locker room would eventually be eliminated. “They still have the anatomy of the opposite sex. If they didn’t have the anatomy, it would be different.”

An earlier Daily Herald story provides more details about the case.

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