ALERT! U.S. Dep’t of Education gives Illinois school district 30 days to comply with order to allow a transgender student to use girls’ restroom and locker facilities or face enforcement action

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has informed Palatine-Schaumburg High School District that its continuing refusal to allow a student to use the girls’ facilities (full access) violates Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination. OCR’s letter gives the District 30 days to reach a solution or face enforcement, which could involve administrative law proceedings or a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice and the risk of losing $6 million in federal funding.

OCR asserts that requiring a transgender student to use private changing and showering facilities is a violation of that student’s rights under Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination. It insists that the student, who identifies as female but was born male, should be given unfettered access to girls’ facilities. “All students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities — this is a basic civil right,” Catherine Lhamon, ED’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said. “Unfortunately, the District is not following the law because the District continues to deny a female student the right to use the girls’ locker room.”

To date, the District’s position has been that it must deny the student access to the girls’ locker rooms in order to protect the privacy interests of all of its students. The District alleged it could satisfy its Title IX obligations as well as protect potential or actual student privacy interests by installing and maintaining privacy curtains in the girls’ locker room which would provide sufficient privacy curtain access to accommodate any/all students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing and would allow for protection of all students’ rights in this context. Those female students wishing to protect their own private bodies from exposure to being observed in a state of undress by other girls in the locker rooms, including transgender girls, could change behind a privacy curtain. This proposal did not satisfy OCR.

The Student’s response to the OCR decision:

“The Department of Education’s decision makes clear that what my school did was wrong,” the student said in statement from the ACLU. “I hope no other student, anywhere, is forced to confront this indignity. It is a good day for all students, but especially those who are transgender all across the nation.”

“This decision makes me extremely happy — because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others,” the student said. “The district’s policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a ‘normal person.'”


Alfred Maiello

Alfred C. Maiello is the founding member of MBM and has represented area school districts as solicitor for 50 years. He counsels school districts and educational institutions on leading developments in school law and guiding them through their day-to-day and long-term challenges.