The Illinois high school district that’s been a battle ground in the national fight over transgender rights is proposing giving transgender students unfettered access to school locker rooms.
This could end a years-long battle waged by students and their supporters against Palatine-based District 211, the state’s largest high school district.
“After four years of resisting at every turn what the law requires … we welcome District 211 taking these steps to bring its policies in alignment with what is best for students who are transgender in the district,” said Ed Yohnka, communications and public policy director with the ACLU, which has represented transgender students in the school district.
Currently, the district’s five high schools only allow transgender students in the locker room that conforms with their gender identity if they change behind a privacy stall. This has been allowed only on a case-by-case basis. The district has had no overarching policy.
But now, the Northwest suburban district is proposing a policy with no locker room restrictions. The District 211 Board of Education will consider the proposal at a board meeting on Thursday. The soonest it could come up for a vote would be next month.
After resisting this change for years, the district said in a letter to parents, students and staff that it is making this proposal to reflect changes in society.
“We have benefited from continuing communications with transgender students and their families, community members, and consultation with other school districts,” the district said in a statement to WBEZ. “Also, understanding and acceptance of transgender identity have advanced – societally and in our immediate communities – for the better. Our district feels now that unrestricted access to the locker room of a student’s gender identity is a better reflection of our community conscience.”
Other factors undoubtedly played a role. The Illinois Human Rights Commission recently ruled in a case involving a different school district that Illinois law requires public schools to provide transgender students full use of restrooms and locker rooms.
In addition, a group opposed to transgender access in the district, Students and Parents for Privacy, dropped a lawsuit last spring that had aimed to restrict locker room and bathroom access.
A spokesman for the group’s lawyer had no comment on the proposed policy change but said it’s likely opponents will attend Thursday’s board of education meeting. The group urged parents to come and posted this question on its Facebook page soon after the proposed change was announced: “Our kids will ask us one day, especially our daughters, what we did when their rights were being taken away, their dignity and well-being ignored. Will you have an answer?”
Yohnka, with the ACLU, said District 211’s restrictive policy made it an outlier among districts — one reason he isn’t expecting significant ramifications of this proposed change beyond the Northwest suburbs.
Yohnka credited students for pushing for change.
“I suspect when the district talks about more complete understanding of what it means to be transgender, and what’s useful and helpful to people who are transgender, I suspect those voices of students inside those schools have made a significant difference,” Yohnka said.
The battles around restroom and locker room access began in the district with two transgender students.
The first filed a complaint with the federal government, which found in 2015 that the district was violating the student’s civil rights by denying her use of the girls’ locker rooms. Ultimately, the district agreed to allow the transgender girl — known as Student A — to use the girls locker room on the condition that she use a privacy stall.
A second student sued the district in 2017 in a bid to win unrestricted access to the girls' locker room. The student is still seeking damages.
A district spokesman said each of the district’s five schools has transgender students. The district also has two small alternative schools.