Locker room rights: District violated transgender student's rights, feds rule

The student had filed a federal complaint against her Illinois school district, for denying her access to girls' facilities.

Steve Helber/AP/File
Gavin Grimm leans on a post on his front porch during an interview at his home in Gloucester, Va., Aug. 25. Gavin is a transgender student whose demand to use the boys' restrooms has divided the community and prompted a lawsuit.

The U.S. Department of Education said Monday that a suburban Chicago school district is violating the rights of a transgender student by refusing to allow her the use of a girls' locker room.

Education Department officials and lawyers for the student say the decision was the first of its kind on the issue.

The student, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a federal complaint against Illinois' Palatine Township School District 211, asking for unrestricted access to the locker room. The district had proposed a compromise that would allow access but require the student to change and shower in a separate area.

"All students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities — this is a basic civil right," Education Department Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Township High School District 211 is not following the law because the district continues to deny a female student the right to use the girls' locker room."

Lhamon went on to say that the district can provide access to the student while also respecting all students' privacy and encouraged the district to comply with the law and resolve the case.

District 211 has 30 days to change the policy, or risk losing millions in federal funding.

In a statement issued by the ACLU, the student, who hasn't been identified, said she was pleased by the Education Department's decision.

Telephone calls to District 211 seeking comment weren't immediately returned.

However, district officials talked about the issue last month, with Superintendent Daniel Cates saying the district supports its transgender students but has to weigh the privacy rights of more than 12,000 other students.

"The principles that we stand on are firm," Cates said at the time. "This is about matters of student privacy." He added that he hopes the district can work with the Education Department and "reasonableness will prevail."

ACLU lawyer John Knight said the complaint against the school district was filed two years ago, noting that in that time the district required the student to dress in a restroom.

Knight contends the district's position stems not from any issues raised by other students, but from "speculation" by the district's administration. He added that District 211's insistence on separating the student from other girls "is blatant discrimination."

"Rather than approaching this issue with sensitivity and dignity, the district has attempted to justify its conduct by challenging my client's identity as a girl," he said.

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