A group of suburban students and parents is suing the U.S. Department of Education and Illinois’ largest high school district after school officials granted a transgender student access to the girls locker room.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday, the group contends that the actions of the Department of Education and Palatine-based Township High School District 211 “trample students’ privacy” rights and create an “intimidating and hostile environment” for students who share the locker rooms and restrooms with the transgender student.
“Students have an expectation of privacy in restrooms and locker rooms, and that expectation is violated when a school puts the opposite-sex student in those kinds of private and intimate facilities,” said Jeremy Tedesco, attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious legal advocacy group representing the plaintiffs.
The group also asserts that the Department of Education’s inclusion of gender identity under Title IX, which aims to protect against discrimination based on sex, is unlawful.
Wednesday’s lawsuit is the latest development in a heated national debate on the rights of transgender people in public spaces. Chicago Public Schools this week announced that transgender students will be able to use restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a transgender student in Virginia who is seeking access to the boys restroom. Meanwhile, North Carolina recently adopted a law that limits public bathroom access for transgender people, though the U.S. Justice Department on said Wednesday that the law violates federal civil rights protections.
The District 211 transgender student, who has not been identified publicly, initially filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that the district discriminated against her when it denied her access to the girls locker room. The district had previously allowed the student to use the girls restroom.
In an unprecedented decision, federal education authorities found that the district had violated Title IX. The district risked losing millions of federal dollars and a possible lawsuit by the federal government if it failed to reach a resolution. In a controversial decision, the district agreed in December to allow the student locker room access and installed privacy stalls. Proponents of the settlement heralded it as a civil rights victory.
About two dozen parents and supporters gathered with their attorneys at a news conference Wednesday in Chicago to announce the filing of the lawsuit. The group lashed out at District 211 officials, saying they gave in too quickly to the federal government’s demands, and criticized the Department of Education for improperly imposing what they called a “radical agenda” on a local school district.
“No school should impose a policy like this against the will of so many parents,” said Vicki Wilson, a district parent who co-founded Students and Parents for Privacy, the lead plaintiff in the case.
District 211 Superintendent Daniel Cates said in a statement that the district “affirms and supports the identity of all our students.”
“The district has faithfully honored our agreement with the Office for Civil Rights and our students have shown acceptance, support and respect of each other,” Cates said. “We have implemented the agreement without any reports of incident or issue.”
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represents the student, called the lawsuit a “sad development by groups opposed to fair and humane treatment of all students, including those who are transgender.”
He also bristled at the lawsuit’s repeated reference to the transgender student as “he.”
“It’s pretty offensive that they don’t even fundamentally acknowledge that our client is a girl,” Yohnka said. “If you don’t understand enough about what it means to be transgender to get that, I don’t know how you even begin to opine on this.”
The lawsuit also names as defendants Secretary of Education John King Jr., the federal Department of Justice and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Earlier this week at a national education conference, King denounced North Carolina’s bathroom law as “hateful” and reiterated the Obama administration’s position that gender identity is protected by Title IX.
The religious liberty group Thomas More Society also is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which seeks to keep the district from enforcing the locker room agreement and restroom policy and to bar the Department of Education from taking action against the district. The plaintiffs also argue in the suit that the locker room agreement prevents students from practicing the modesty that their faith requires of them.
Thomas More Society attorney Jocelyn Floyd called the policy a “setback” for women’s rights.
“To impose such a rule on still-developing teenage girls — already struggling with puberty’s changes on their bodies and social pressures to look a certain way — undermines their dignity and tells them that their rights don’t matter,” Floyd said.
One student who opted to use the privacy stall said she was called “transphobic” and “homophobic,” according to the lawsuit, which stated that she now wears her gym clothes under her school clothes to avoid changing in the locker room.
Chicago Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair contributed.
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