The suburban high school district at the center of a national debate over transgender student rights voted Thursday night to gives its transgender students full access to school locker rooms and bathrooms.
The decision ends a four-year fight at Palatine-based Township High School District 211, the state’s largest high school district.
“I could not be happier that the district passed this. It’s a huge step forward and an absolute win,” said Nova Maday, a former District 211 student.
In November 2017, then-Palatine High School student Maday sued the district. She says the district discriminated against her, a transgender student, by forcing her to change behind a privacy curtain or a room other than the locker room.
The cafeteria at Fremd High School in Palatine was divided Thursday night. People who opposed the new policy wore red shirts and were vocal about their dissent.
“I do not want to see a transgender student naked in locker rooms. I do not want a transgender student to see me naked in locker rooms,” said Fremd High School student Julia Burca.
She’s part of the district’s swimming program, and she said approving the policy would mean the wants of a small minority would outweigh the majority.
The debate over transgender student access started four years ago when a student charged that the district’s practices discriminated against transgender students. The student 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.
The district then allowed transgender students to use the locker room of their choice but required them to change behind a privacy stall.
Supt. Daniel Cates said in a statement earlier this fall that understanding and acceptance of transgender identity had advanced “for the better” over the years. He says the new policy, which was proposed in September, reflects that advancement.
The board voted five to two to approve the “Equal Educational Opportunities” policy. The district assured attendees that a student would not be able to randomly decide to enter in any bathroom. The district says it would be a decision made by administrators, the individual student and their parents. Individual plans would be created for students who request transgender support.
Before the vote, board member Mark Cramer proposed putting the policy to residents in the next election as an advisory referendum.
“It is possible to not implement this policy and be in compliance with the law,” Cramer said.
That proposal was voted down.
The district said if a cisgender student feels uncomfortable changing around a transgender student, there are private areas to use or accommodations can be made on request.
Parents opposed to the new policy have created a form that requests a school provide privacy accommodations for their students. Some residents said they planned to vote against any board members who supported the policy.
The district said it did not know how many students identify as transgender because schools do not request that information during enrollment. But about a dozen kids have requested a gender support plan this school year.
It says similar policies have been implemented at nearby school districts without incident.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said the district’s policy is welcome and long overdue. The organization represents Maday in her lawsuit against the district, which is on-going. It said it would monitor how the district implements the policy and would continue to fight for equal treatment.
The district said it would implement the policy starting second semester in January.