Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Banning Transgender Girl from Girls' Locker Room Violates Title IX, OCR Says

At the close of its investigation of Township High School District 211 in Illinois, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights concluded yesterday that the district's exclusion of a transgender girl from the girls' locker room facilities at the high school violates Title IX. 

The student in question was assigned a male sex at birth but has identified as female from a young age and in middle school began a public transition to female with her parents' support. The school district has been supportive of her in many ways; OCR notes that the high school records identify her as female, that the staff and classmates use her preferred name and female pronouns, and that she has access to girls' restrooms and plays on girls' athletics teams. Yet for the last two years, district administrators have prohibited her from changing in the various girls' locker rooms in the building, even though the student is willing and in fact prefers a private space (a restroom stall) within the girls' locker room. Instead, administrators offered to make available a separate changing area that is adjacent to the girls locker room. The student objected to this arrangement on the grounds that being relegated to an adjacent area actually draws more attention to the fact she is singled out for exclusion.  She instead changes in another area made available, which is a locked single-stall restroom elsewhere in the building. As a result of its inconvenient location and the fact that she must find a staff member to unlock it for her, the student has been late to physical education class a number of times, and is sometimes unable to access uniforms needed for class.  She has also been excluded from informal camaraderie with her teammates that sometimes occurs in the girls' athletics locker room (which is different from the P.E. locker room) prior to practice.  She was also excluded from the pool locker room. 

OCR's conclusion in this case is that excluding the transgender student from the girls' locker room impairs her educational opportunities and does so on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX.  It noted that the school could remedy this violation and protect the privacy interests of its students at the same time by installing privacy curtains in the various locker rooms -- something that it had indeed already done in the girls' P.E. locker room. Such privacy enhancements would serve the interests of all students, including the transgender student in question, who has expressed a willingness and preference for using them, as well as any other student who would feel uncomfortable changing in front of other girls. The agency has given the school district 30 days to reach a voluntary agreement along these lines, in lieu of bringing a formal enforcement action. 

This is not the first time OCR has expressed an opinion on transgender students' gender-consonant usage of single-sex facilities.  In resolution agreements with other school districts, the agency has taken the position that transgender students should be treated in accordance with their gender identity, including when it comes to bathrooms and restrooms.  This case is unique, however, for its particular focus on locker rooms and the extensive treatment of that issue.