A group of 51 suburban families filed a federal lawsuit against their Illinois school district, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday, alleging that the district is violating students’ privacy and safety by allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.
Northwest suburban Township High School District 211 was forced to do so by the Department of Education, which charged that not accommodating the locker room choice of one transgender student who filed a complaint with the federal agency was a violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
But the lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom and the Thomas More Society, on behalf of the 73 parents and 63 students, maintains that the 1972 federal law actually authorizes schools to retain single-sex restrooms and locker rooms, and Title IX is being unlawfully redefined by the Department of Education, which has overstepped into Congress’ purview in broadening its interpretation.
“Protecting students from inappropriate exposure to the opposite sex is not only perfectly legal, it’s a school district’s duty,” said Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom. “Allowing boys into girls’ locker rooms, a setting where girls are often partially or fully unclothed, is a blatant violation of student privacy. The school district should rescind its privacy-violating policies, and the court should order the Department of Education to stop bullying school districts with falsehoods about what federal law requires.”
A spokesman said the Department of Education would provide a statement.
The lawsuit,Students and Parents for Privacy v. United States Department of Education, seeks an injunction against District 211. Headquartered in Palatine, it serves nearly 12,500 students from Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Schaumburg and parts of seven other northwest suburbs in five high schools and two alternative high schools.
It also asks the court to declare the policy and the district’s agreement with the Department of Education unconstitutional and illegal under both federal and Illinois law, and to have the court invalidate the department’s interpretation of Title IX’s sex discrimination provisions.
District 211 Supt. Dan Cates said Wednesday that the district affirms and supports the identity of all its students and will stand by the highly publicized agreement it reached last December with the department’s Office for Civil Rights. The nationally watched case had involved a boy who identified as a girl, sought use of the girls’ locker room, and initially was denied. After the student’s parents filed a complaint, the department threatened the district with loss of federal funds, and it capitulated.
“We have implemented the agreement without any reports of incident or issue,” Cates said. “Our students have shown acceptance, support and respect of each other. Individual changing stalls in our locker rooms are readily available to every student and further accommodations that provide even greater privacy remain available upon request.”
At a press conference at the Dirksen Federal Building, two of the parents filing the lawsuit spoke, but only one was willing to be identified.
“When the school district was considering allowing a young man into the girl’s locker room last fall, after the Department of Education had stepped in with threats and intimidation, they heard from hundreds of parents like me who were against this policy,” said parent Vicki Wilson.
“We expected the district to stand up to their bullying, because it’s a school’s duty to protect our children when they are threatened. The parents understood that what the government was doing was illegal and unconstitutional,” Wilson said. “We supported our school in standing up to them. But somehow, the school board decided that the privacy and dignity of our children had no value when weighed against dollars and cents.”
The lawsuit comes in the same week when the Chicago Public Schools clarified its own policy to stipulate that transgender students can now use the restrooms that match their gender identity.
Attorneys for the suburban families point out that at least five other federal and state courts have rejected the DOE’s interpretation of Title IX. They did not mention, however, a recent ACLU case out of Virginia, C.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. In that case, a district court dismissed a lawsuit for access filed by a transgender student. But on April 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of the student.
And on Wednesday, the Justice Department fired a salvo on a related issue, warning the state of North Carolina that it risks losing millions of dollars in federal funding over its controversial measure that removed sexual orientation from discrimination protections. Known as HB2, the law has sparked a contentious national debate.