The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has informed District 211, Illinois’ largest school district, that it is in violation of federal law by refusing to allow a male student who identifies as female to use the girl’s locker room.
The student, whose name has been kept private, first filed a complaint with support from the ACLU of Illinois in early 2014. Following precedent in two similar cases in California, District 211 was informed that depriving the student of equal access to facilities violates Title IX’s sex nondiscrimination protections, calling such treatment “inadequate and discriminatory.”
At a press conference on October 12, Illinois District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates said he would not abide by the OCR’s decision. “This is about matters of student privacy,” Cates said. “What they are asking us to do is have opposite sex students in the same open area of the locker room and that we do not do. This is a matter we take very seriously and this policy would undo that.”
A statement issued by the district says that it supports transgender students, but that locker room access presents a unique set of challenges:
District 211 has supported — and continues to support — transgender students and their families, while always balancing the rights and concerns of all the students it serves. Transgender students who don’t want separate private accommodations are allowed to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identity, as there are private stalls available. They also can participate on sex-identified sports teams, consistent with Illinois High School Association policy, and are provided with private changing areas, both during the regular school day and while participating in after-school activities or athletic events. In all instances, transgender students have access to a support team with extensive training in addressing the identity development needs of adolescents. This support team, in partnership with students and parents, works through the options available for sex-specific facilities, as well as name and gender references on school rosters.
The OCR has taken the position that the District’s decision not to allow unrestricted access to the locker room is inadequate and discriminatory. The OCR has directed that transgender students should have full access to sex-specific locker rooms for changing during physical education classes and after-school activities. Likely litigation and enforcement action, including the potential loss of federal education funds, may be imposed by the OCR.
If the district cannot reach a compromise with federal officials, it risks losing some of the $6 million it receives in federal funding.