The transgender student whose fight to use the girls’ locker room at her suburban high school sparked a national debate on equity vs. privacy was granted access Friday.
School officials in Palatine-based Township High School District 211 this week prepared for the shift, reaching out to parents and holding staff training on gender identity issues.
Friday marked the deadline to provide the student locker room access under a controversial agreement adopted by the school board last month. After a lengthy battle with federal authorities, tense negotiations and rancorous board meetings attended by hundreds, the board agreed to the settlement to put an end to the student’s discrimination claim.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, triggered an investigation and an unprecedented decision in November that the district had violated Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex. The district risked losing millions of federal dollars and a possible lawsuit if it failed to reach a resolution.
“As agreed with the OCR, the District will soon provide a transgender student access to the locker room consistent with the student’s gender identity based on the student’s request to change in private changing stations within the locker room,” the principal of the student’s high school said in an email to parents this week. “The physical education locker room provides accommodating means to ensure privacy for any student when changing clothes.”
Neither the student’s name nor high school has been identified publicly.
Superintendent Daniel Cates, who argued all along against unfettered locker room access, contended that the district needed to weigh the rights of the transgender student with those of the 12,000 other students in the district. He said previously that he believed the agreement struck that balance.
Some parents remain concerned, said Vicki Wilson, a district parent and co-founder of the group District 211 Parents for Privacy.
“They sacrificed the basic constitutional rights of the other students,” she said. “They chose to cave to the feds when the really didn’t need to.”
School officials initially installed privacy curtains in unused areas of the locker room but have since replaced them with stalls, complete with doors, hooks and benches, district spokesman Tom Petersen said.
“We decided the curtains really weren’t private enough,” he said. “This alternative was a better option. They’re a lot like the changing areas at a department store.”
Both the boys’ and girls’ PE locker rooms each have five privacy stalls for any student to use, he said. The cost to the district was nominal, Petersen added, because the school repurposed material that was already on hand and used its maintenance crew to install.
Students seeking additional privacy can contact their counselors. Details of the changes will be included as part of an end-of-semester presentation in gym classes Friday.
In addition, the district encourages parents to talk to their kids and answer any questions they may have about issues relating to diversity and gender identity.
To help with such discussions at school — and to comply with another of the settlement’s requirements — school officials have turned to Jennifer Leininger, a manager of the Gender and Sex Development program at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, as their gender identity expert. Leininger also led this week’s staff training sessions.
“I think the big takeaway was how to be an ally to the transgender student,” she said. “These are students who have been marginalized in schools. How can we create an environment in school where they not only feel accepted but celebrated?”
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing the student, said she is looking forward to finally gaining access to the locker room.
“The family has worked diligently with officials from the school district over the past several weeks to implement the settlement agreement,” Yohnka said. “They hope that this agreement is the beginning of a process which will result in all students — transgender and cisgender (or nontransgender) — being respected and honored within District 211.”
(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune
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