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Palatine School District Violated Transgender Student's Rights: Federal Officials

By Kate Shepherd in News on Nov 3, 2015 6:30PM

via Google

A Palatine school district's treatment of a transgender student violated federal law, education authorities have said.

Federal education authorities concluded Monday that Township High School District 211 in Palatine violated federal law when it did not allow a transgender student who identifies as a girl and is on a girls' sports team to use the girls' locker room at her school without restrictions.

The decision was the first of its kind on transgender students' rights—one of the new cultural battlegrounds for public schools, according to the New York Times. The Palatine district has not yet reached a settlement to give transgender students full access and has indicated that they are willing to fight the decision in court.

The U.S. Department of Education has given Township High School District 211 officials 30 days to reach an agreement, or they could face enforcement. It could include administrative law proceedings or a court action and the Palatine district could lose some or all of its Title IX funding.

The transgender student, who was assigned male at birth but has identified as female for years, filed a complaint with the DOE's Office for Civil Rights when she was denied unrestricted access to the girls' locker room in late 2013, according to the Tribune. The school district put up privacy curtains in the locker room last week but negotiations stalled after district officials said she would be required to use it and not offered a choice.

She plans on using the private area or a bathroom stall to change but the decision to not allow her a voluntary choice "sends a pretty strong signal to her that she's not accepted and the district does not see her as girl," John Knight, director of the LGBT and AIDS Project at ACLU of Illinois, which is representing her, told the Tribune.

The Office for Civil Rights agreed and said that requiring the unidentified student to use private changing and showering facilities is a violation of her Title IX rights, according to a 14-page letter sent to the school district Monday.

"All students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities-this is a basic civil right," Catherine Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Township High School District 211 is not following the law because the district continues to deny a female student the right to use the girls' locker room."

The district argues that it has instituted many progressive policies for its transgender students: they can use the bathrooms of their identified gender, play on the sports teams of their identified gender and school staff changes their names, genders and pronouns on official records. But they refused to allow full access to the locker room, citing the privacy rights of the other students.

"The students in our schools are teenagers, not adults, and one's gender is not the same as one's anatomy," Superintendent Daniel Cates said in a statement. "Boys and girls are in separate locker rooms-where there are open changing areas and open shower facilities-for a reason."

Cates believes the DOE's position is "a serious overreach with precedent-setting implications."