Chicago High School Guilty Of Violating Federal Law Over Transgender Student

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Illinois largest high school district has been found guilty of violating federal law by barring a transgender student from using the correct locker rooms following a two year investigation into the incident.

The United States Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights investigated Palatine High School for two years following the accusations, and found ‘a preponderance of evidence’ that the school officials willingly went against Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

The young female student, who cannot be identified due to legal reasons, filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights  in late 2013 after the school refused to allow her access to the female changing room facilities.

After attempts were made to negotiate with the school to allow the young woman access the school agreed to put up a privacy curtain in the locker room.  However, the negotiations were forced to a halt when the school informed the student that she would have to use the private area, instead of offering it as a choice.

Although the student said that she intended to use the private area, John Knight, director of the LGBT and AIDS Project at ACLU of Illinois said that the stipulation of the private area constituted ‘blatant discrimination’.

‘It’s not voluntary, it’s mandatory for her’ Knight went on to comment.  ‘It’s one thing to say to all the girls, ‘You can chose 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 doesn’t see her as a girl.’

In the districts five high schools transgender students have in the past been allowed by staff to change their names, genders and pronouns on school records, as well as use the bathroom facilities and play on the sports teams of their gender identity, yet draw the line at locker rooms.

Education officials cited the privacy rights of the other 12,00 plus students in district 211 as the main concern for this barring of transgender students.

The school installed four privacy curtain inside the locker room, and one around a shower to try and sidestep the issue of privacy, however, because they gave the transgender student no choice in whether or not they would use them federal officials deemed this solution to be insufficient and grounds for discrimination.

According to a letter from the Office of Civil Rights ‘[the student] has not only received an unequal opportunity to benefit from the districts education program, but has also experienced an ongoing sense of isolation and ostracism throughout her high school enrolment.’

The young girl, who plays on one of the schools girls sports teams, told federal authorities in statements that she broke down in tears after her coaches reprimanded her for using the locker room to change, her coach telling her that fellow students and team mates were uncomfortable dressing in front of her.

Despite the ruling that the district was in violation of the students civil rights Superintendent Daniel Cates remained adamant that they were not in violation of the law and warned that the Obama administration were attempting a ‘serious overreach with precedent-setting implications’.

‘The students in our schools are teenagers, not adults, and ones gender is not the same as ones anatomy.  Boys and girls are in separate locker rooms – where there are open changing areas and open shower facilities – for a reason.’

Cates went on to try and emphasise that the districts position should not be seen as discriminatory by saying, ‘we celebrate and honour difference among all student and we condemn any vitriolic messages that disparage transgender identity or transgender students in any way’.

Despite these claims that the district celebrate diversity and that their rules regarding separating their transgender students from the general population are not discriminatory federal officials have disagreed, giving the district 30 days in which to reach an agreement with authorities on how to move forward on the subject, or risk having their educational funding suspended or even terminated.

The student said in a statement that the federal ruling ‘makes clear that what my school did was wrong’.  She goes on to say that ‘This decision makes me extremely happy – because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others.  The districts policy stigmatised me, often making me feel like I was not a ‘normal person’.’

Department of Education report on District 211 Title IX violations.


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Amy is a journalist and editor contributing the websites Planet Transgender, Gay News Network, The Bottle Episode, The Retro Box and Claire Channel. Amy is also a published comic book writer and letterer.

In addition to her writing Amy has also worked with the Centre For Hate Crime Studies in Leicester and has worked in the capacity of an advisor to the United Nations Entity For Gender Equality and The Empowerment of Women.

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