A school district in the suburbs of Chicago has agreed to a settlement with the federal government that grants a transgender student access to the girls' locker room a month after the United States Department of Education threatened the school with disciplinary action.
In early November, the Department of Education's Civil Rights Office gave Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Illinois, just 30 days to grant a biologically male transgender student use of the girl's locker room or the school would have been at risk of losing nearly $6 million in federal funding.
The CRO claimed that denying the transgender student access to the girls' locker room was a violation of Title IX, which is the law that prohibits discrimination based on sex and is the first time that the federal government has found a school in violation of Title IX because of a transgender-related issue.
Despite many parents and students urging the school not to cave to the federal government's pressure, the district school board voted 5-2 last Thursday to grant the student use of the girls' locker room as the 30-day ultimatum was set to expire.
Although the student is now granted access to the locker room, the student agreed to only change clothes inside a changing area, which features privacy curtains that blocks girls' from being able to see the student's male genitalia.
"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," Superintendent Daniel Cates said in a statement.
The agreement only permits the student in question to use the girls' locker rooms and is not to be considered a district-wide transgender locker room policy.
"I commend the Board of Education of Township High School District 211 for taking steps necessary to protect civil rights as well as student privacy," Catherine Lhamon, Education Department assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. "We are grateful that the board and superintendent chose to come into full compliance with our nation's civil rights laws. And, we look forward to partnering with the district to assure that the terms of this agreement are fully and effectively implemented."
The school district made many different accommodations for transgender students in its five high schools since an unnamed student filed a complaint with the CRO in 2013, such as allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their identified sex and changing their names and pronouns on school records.
Despite the changes the school made, the CRO was not fully satisfied until the school granted the student full use of the girls' locker rooms.
Although the school district offered last month to allow the student to change in a curtained off area of the locker room while prohibiting him from accessing other areas of the locker room, the CRO deemed that accommodation unacceptable at the time and claimed that an impasse had been reached in their negotiations.
Although the CRO initially opposed the measure that forced the student to change in a curtained-off area of the locker room, the CRO seemingly had no objection to the fact that the agreement with the district still forces the student to change in the sectioned-off area and prohibits him from having unrestricted access to the locker room.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the legal group representing the student, believes that the agreement is still in violation of the law because it prohibits the student from having unrestricted access to the locker room.
"[The school district] continues to demonstrate a wanton ignorance of the science of gender by persisting in drawing a false distinction between transgender person's gender and anatomy," John Knight of ACLU Illinois, told The Washington Post. "Let me be clear. My client is a girl — full stop."
The board's vote last Thursday was preceded by a gathering of hundreds of students and parents at Hoffman Estates' Conant High School cafeteria on Wednesday evening where they voiced their opposition or support for allowing the transgender student to use the locker room.
"I'm not totally comfortable changing in front of girls," one female student explained, according to the Chicago Tribune. "I would be uncomfortable changing in front of someone I believe is a guy."
After the board voted to grant the transgender student access to the locker room, a number of opponents were disgusted with the result.
"They ought to be ashamed of themselves for even doing that," resident Bill Nix said. "Why are we bending over backward for one student? What happened to majority rules?"
Parent Jeff Miller, who said his daughter was scared and uncomfortable when she learned a biological male would gain access to the girls' locker room, asserts that "this is not a civil rights issue."
"I'm not intolerant, and I'm not a bigot. People have the right in this country to live their lives the way they see fit, and I respect that," Miller said. "When it starts infringing on other people's rights, that's when it becomes a problem."
"The difference is in how we define gender," Miller added. "I define it based on biology, and the other side defines it based on gender identity, which is essentially nothing but a belief."
On Monday, parents and students gathered again at the high school to urge the board to rescind its agreement. However, the board declined to issue a vote.