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Chicago school district discriminated against transgender student, report says

A suburban Chicago school district is now under fire for not allowing a transgender student access to the girls’ locker room. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a 14-page report outlining the violations committed by Township High School of District 211 in Palatine, Illinois.

The report concludes a two-year investigation into the school district that began in December 2013. The initial complaint filed against the school district was because it had not allowed Student A access to the girls’ locker room, “because of her gender identity and gender nonconformity.”

Cases such as this one are becoming increasingly frequent across the nation, so much so that the Department of Education along with the Justice Department have both stepped in to say that schools must give transgender students full access to locker rooms. The violation which the report claims the district broke is Title IX, which bars discrimination in federally funded education programs. If the district does not come up with an agreeable solution within the next 30 days, they risk losing up to 6 million dollars in federal funding.

“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. It is a good day for all students, but especially those who are transgender all across the nation,” said the student in a statement to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Thus far, district officials are still standing their ground. On Monday, Superintendent Daniel Cates stated in his response to the OCR report that, “we do not agree with their decision and remain strong in our belief that the District’s course of action, including private changing stations in our locker rooms, appropriately serves the dignity and privacy of all students in our educational environment.”

District 211 has been recognized by the OCR for making some necessary adjustments to respond to the needs and rights of transgender students. These adjustments include changing Student A’s name to her female name on all of the school’s rosters, allowing her access to all of the girls’ restrooms, and permitting her to participate in girls’ interscholastic athletics.

Student A reportedly felt “ostracized” and “isolated” when she was forced to change in the school nurse’s office or in a private bathroom. The teen would often miss announcements and information shared in the locker rooms, such as the day she changed for PE but there had been an announcement made for the class to stay in their street clothes.

The OCR argued that the school’s proposed solution — to install privacy curtains in locker rooms — was in fact not a solution because insisting transgender students use the curtains was “unfair.” Additionally, the curtains were not installed in the swimming and athletic locker rooms, making them inaccessible to trans students.

The issue of how to provide equal access to locker rooms for transgender students is at the center of debate in several states. The Palatine case is being looked at by many as a test case for the entire country. Illinois is one of several states that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodations.

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