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District, Feds Reach Settlement Over Transgender Student's Locker Room Use

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A suburban Chicago district has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights over its treatment of a transgender student, the federal agency announced Thursday.

As I reported last month, the Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Ill., was the first ever to be found in violation of federal civil rights laws over transgender issues. Federal officials threatened sanctions—which could include the withholding of federal funds from the school system—if it did not offer a transgender student, who was born a boy but who identifies as a girl, unrestricted access to the girls' locker room.

Such issues can be difficult for school officials who may not be familiar with transgender student issues, and who must rely on very few legal precedents to determine their obligations under federal civil rights laws.

The Obama administration has said Title IX's protections apply not only to sex but to sexual orientation and gender identity. But some have disagreed with that interpretation. Most recently, a group of states weighed in on a federal lawsuit involving a Virginia student this week, arguing that the law was never meant to be applied so broadly.

But schools looking for a clear path forward in the federal settlement announced this morning might not find it.

The district agreed to "provide the student with access to the girls' locker rooms at her high school based on the student's request to change in private changing stations in the girls' locker rooms." It also agreed to "protect the privacy of its students by installing sufficient privacy curtains within the girls' locker rooms at the high school to accommodate the transgender student and any students who wish to be assured of privacy" and to provide alternative facilities for other students who may want more privacy.

That decision to install privacy curtains is somewhat similar to a compromise the school had proposed before it was found in violation of Title IX. The difference here seems to be that the student herself agree to this solution and that privacy curtains would be made available for other students. But what if she hadn't agreed? How would another school resolve this situation if the student wanted to change in the open like her peers? 

Under the settlement, the district must also:

  • Work with hosts of off-site activities to arrange for the transgender student to be provided access to facilities for female students.
  • Work with a consultant "with expertise in child and adolescent gender identity, including transgender and gender nonconforming youth," to help the district carry out the agreement.
  • Create a support team, "if requested by the transgender student and her parents, to ensure that she has access and the opportunity to participate in all district programs and activities, and is otherwise protected from gender-based discrimination at school."
  • Adopt and publish a revised notice of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex.
  • Share a copy or detailed description of all gender-based discrimination or harassment complaints or incidents with the office for civil rights.

You can read the department's original findings here, and you can read the agreement here.


Related reading:

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