Young people may already find it difficult to fit in within the changing dynamics of high school. One Illinois high school student found that out all too clearly when the school restricted access to the locker room based on the student's identified gender. Now, federal officials have come in on the side of the student, finding that the school district violated federal law.
A transgender student was attending Illinois' biggest school district, Township High School in Palatine. The young student was undergoing hormone therapy, but had not yet gone through gender reassignment surgery. The student identified as female, but was prevented by school officials from using the girls' locker room. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint on behalf of the student, claiming discrimination based on sex.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. After a two year investigation, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights responded to the school district, siding with the student and notifying the district that they were in violation of federal law.
The student, who wished to keep her identity private, had been allowed to use the girl's restroom, and was involved in female sports teams. However, when it came time to using the locker room, the student was instructed to use a separate bathroom. In response to the complaint, the district decided on a compromise, to allow the student to use the female locker room, but only if they used a separate area behind a curtain.
However, the Department of Education did not find the district's requirement for a curtained-off changing area to be enough to clear them of a Title IX violation. Now the school district is at risk of losing federal funding unless they allow equal access to the transgender students.
Some schools are struggling with how to provide equal treatment to transgender students, without clear guidance from the state or federal government. So far, the Illinois State Board of Education has not advised state schools on how to provide for transgender students. A spokesperson for the ISBE said that, “transgender students' rights are protected by law,” and the ISBE has no plans for publishing guidelines for such students.
In spite of the loss of funding, District Superintendent Daniel Cates says the district will maintain their policy. “After serious and lengthy consideration, the District will continue to provide private accommodations for transgender students to ensure a respectful school environment, and will not allow unrestricted access to its locker rooms as directed by OCR. The goal of the District in this matter is to protect the privacy rights of all students.”
The unnamed student was relieved to hear the federal department's decision. In a statement released by the ACLU, the student responded, “The Department of Education's decision makes clear that what my school did was wrong. I hope no other student, anywhere, is forced to confront this indignity.”
If you or someone you know has been treated differently at school because of discrimination based on gender, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands education discrimination cases. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and ensure equal treatment under the law.