Equity & Diversity

Transgender-Student Rules Loom Large in Illinois Suburb’s School Board Race

By Evie Blad — April 04, 2017 2 min read
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A suburban Chicago school district’s decision to give a transgender girl access to the girls’ locker room has dominated a school board race there, but the student at the center of the controversy told the Chicago Tribune her peers have no issue with the policy.

The Palatine District 211, in Illinois, first amended its rules to allow locker room access for the unidentified student under threat of federal civil rights enforcement actions by the Obama-era U.S. Department of Education. That agency argued that Title IX applied to gender identity and that Palatine’s previous policy of requiring the student to use a separate room to change was a violation of her civil rights.

The Trump administration has since rescinded the Obama administration’s position on transgender students, and Palatine’s policy is now the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by a group of 50 families organized under the name “Parents for Privacy,” who argue that allowing transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identities violates the privacy rights of their peers.

The issue has taken center stage in the district’s school board race, drowning out issues like finances, facilities, and academic achievement, the Tribune reports.

“It basically overtakes the whole concept of being a school board member,” candidate Ed Yung told the paper. “It kind of ignores the fact that there’s a lot more to being on a school board than a handful of transgender students.”

Three school board candidates have organized under the name Parents With Purpose, according to the Tribune:

Along with other issues, such as opposing tax increases and calling for better community representation, the group has pledged to “usher in change” by providing “reasonable accommodations” but ending locker room and restroom access for students of the opposite biological sex. Their campaign has even drawn financial support from well-known donor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest, who has donated millions to conservative candidates and causes. But the student at the forefront of the case says transgender access to bathrooms and locker rooms is a nonissue for her fellow students. She said she’s used the privacy stalls in the locker room without hassle, as many other students have. “Honestly, (students) are sick of this issue. They think it’s quite ridiculous,” said the student, who asked not to be named. She worries that, depending on the outcome of the election, “other students could have to go through what I went through (before the agreement) or even worse.

Among other things, the Obama-era guidance on Title IX instructed schools and districts to provide transgender students access to restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The Trump administration argued that revoking that interpretation gives discretion to state and local decision makers. But advocates for transgender students and some education groups have argued that the guidance provided needed clarity and consistency for schools.

The interpretation of Title IX is the focus of a handful of federal lawsuits, which could provide further clarity in the absence of federal guidance.

Related reading on transgender students:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.