The state of Illinois's second largest high school district has one month to decide which it values more: a transgender student's wish to be treated as a 'normal person,' or other students' and adults' concerns over privacy.
The student at the center of the case, who was born male but has identified as female for many years, is receiving hormone therapy, The New York Times reports, and her suburban Illinois high school has honored her wish to go by a female name and pronouns, in keeping with district policy. She also uses women's restrooms.
When it comes to changing rooms, however, the Palatine Township High School District 211 insists that she change behind a privacy curtain, which the American Civil Liberties Union claims is discrimination, saying the student, who has not been named, could not "participate equally."
On Monday, the US Department of Education announced that the district had one month to comply, or risk losing millions in Title IX funding.
She has "experienced an ongoing sense of isolation and ostracism throughout her high school enrollment at the school," the department's Office for Civil Rights wrote in a letter to the district superintendent.
But the district insists that privacy curtains are the best solution to honor all students' needs, and denies breaking any law.
"We condemn any vitriolic messages that disparage transgender identity or transgender students in any way," Superintendent Daniel Cates said in a statement. However, he called the decision "serious overreach" and said that other students' privacy, and perhaps immaturity, made privacy curtains the best option.
"Students in our schools are teenagers, not adults, and one's gender is not the same as one's anatomy," Dr. Cates wrote. On previous occasions, some students and at least one parent objected to the student changing with her other female teammates.
According to the girl's lawyers, she will most likely continue to use curtains, but wants to do so voluntarily, not under orders from the district.
"It's one thing to say to all the girls, 'You can choose if you want some extra privacy,' but it's another thing to say, 'You, and you alone, must use them.' That sends a pretty strong signal to her that she's not accepted and the district does not see her as girl," ACLU lawyer John Knight told the Chicago Tribune.
Although the school seems poised to fight the Department of Education's decision, which could possibly lead to the case being referred to the Department of Justice, the order made the plaintiff "extremely happy," according to an ACLU statement: "The district's policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a 'normal person.' "
The Department of Education has intervened in two similar cases in California, where both districts agreed to let transgender students use the facilities of their choice.
This report includes material from Reuters and The Associated Press.