Illinois District Transgender Settlement
A settlement agreement between Illinois Township High School District 211 and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights about the district’s transgender student was so distorted by government representatives that the district almost backed out.
Although many residents of Illinois Township High School District 211 believe no student with male anatomy should be granted any access to the female locker room, the local board of education voted 5 to 2 to approve an agreement made with the U.S. Education Department (USED) Office of Civil Rights that settles the transgender case covered in the December 2015 Education Reporter.
Under the terms of the agreement reached in December, the school district will continue the existing policy of using screens to separate the male transgender student from females in the locker room. The agreement only applies to the one student who sued the district with the help of the ACLU.
But headlines in several media articles announced: “Transgender Gains Full Locker Room Access.”
The media’s misstatement of facts occurred because the Department of Education claimed the school had capitulated to the USED Office of Civil Rights (OCR), that the student would have full locker room access, and that the agreement would apply to any other transgender student in the district. Some believe the OCR misrepresentation was a purposeful effort to scare other school districts into believing they can’t win against the government.
The Illinois school district was so distressed by the misinformation spread by the Dept. of Education that they threatened to retract the agreement. The Board of Education issued this statement: “We are disappointed that the OCR made an already very difficult, passionate, and emotional issue very confusing with their apparent misstatements and lack of clarity in describing the agreement.”
“The OCR appears to be stating to the media what they wish was in the agreement, rather than what was actually agreed upon by both OCR and the District 211 board of education,” according to school Superintendent Dan Cates. Cates said the USED OCR “acted in bad faith” and that the district would back out of the agreement “unless the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stops characterizing it as giving the student unrestricted access.”
According to Superintendent Cates, “From the outset, our public statements have consistently conveyed the District’s position that unrestricted access by transgender students in our open locker rooms is unacceptable because gender is not the same as anatomy.” Cates clarified that “if this student doesn’t comply, access will no longer be allowed.” He continued, “The agreement also removes the threat of the loss of federal funds and states that no violation of Title IX or discrimination by the district has occurred.”
The Board of Education also maintains that “the agreement explicitly recognizes that the District does not admit any violation of federal law or regulation.” This is an important point that may be used as a precedent when other districts attempt to fight claims of Title IX violation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seems to understand the settlement made concerning their client, as evidenced by their response. “The ACLU believes the school district’s insistence that the student not be allowed full unrestricted access to locker rooms is still a violation of the law.” An ACLU lawyer claims that the district “continues to demonstrate a wanton ignorance of the science of gender by persisting in drawing a false distinction between transgender persons’ gender and anatomy. Let me be clear. My client is a girl — full stop.”
At a public meeting about the settlement, speakers were allotted time according to a lottery. Several of those who spoke in favor of the transgender getting full locker room access were from outside the area. Many local students and parents are dissatisfied with the settlement and feel there should be no accommodation of transgender students. The founder of District 211 Parents for Privacy says, “This proves that some things that are this important should be put before the public as a direct vote because it’s clear this board didn’t listen to the majority of the community.”
This issue will doubtless be a continuing cause of dissension, controversy, and confusion in other schools across the nation. One side believes all students deserve privacy and the other side believes biological males should have full access to female locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers because they believe themselves to be girls. (Washington Post, 12-3-15) (Daily Herald, 12-6-15 and 12-8-15) (Education Week, 12-9-15)