Battle over transgender locker room access lands back in court

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A dispute over a transgender student’s access to the girls’ locker room at Fremd High School led to a deal with the federal government that is now being challenged in court. | Fremd High School website

The battle over transgender student access to a northwest suburban girls’ locker room returned to Chicago’s federal courthouse Monday, where lawyers for a group of students and parents hope a judge will intervene.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert said Monday he would not immediately rule on a request to stop a transgender student from using the girls’ locker room while a lawsuit proceeds. The complaint was filed by Students and Parents for Privacy, an “unincorporated association” of 51 families with ties to Palatine-based Township High School District 211.

At the center of the debate is a transgendered student, referred to in court Monday as “Student A,” entering her senior year at William Fremd High School. Born male, lawyers for the school district said the student is a girl “in every way she can be.” The student has been allowed to use the girls’ restroom at Fremd since August 2013. The district agreed to let the student use the girls’ locker room last December in a deal that involved installing privacy curtains.

Jeremy Tedesco, a lawyer for Students and Parents for Privacy, insisted to the judge that “Student A is male,” and he said his clients have a right to use a locker room “free of a male student.” He also decried a “subjective definition of sex.”

But Sheila Lieber, representing the U.S. Department of Education, argued that Student A “is a female” who was harmed when she was “not allowed to use the female locker room” prior to December. Sally Scott, a lawyer for the school district, said Student A changes her clothes in a bathroom stall “or doesn’t change.” Meanwhile, a locker room attendant is present, and other students are given access to private areas to change their clothes.

“There are no lines to the privacy areas,” Scott said. “As far as we know, they’re not even being used.”

Tedesco said after court that girls who use the privacy areas have been bullied, and those who object to Student A’s use of the locker room are labeled by the school as “narrow minded.”

District 211 serves nearly 12,500 students from Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Inverness and Schaumburg, and parts of seven other northwestern suburbs, in five high schools and two alternative high schools. It was forced to give Student A access to the locker room last year when the Department of Education charged that not accommodating the student was a violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

The lawsuit 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.

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