School officials in a suburban Chicago district said Friday they may back out of a newly minted deal with the U.S. Department of Education allowing a transgender student to use a girls' locker room, over a dispute about a hypothetical: What would happen if the girl decided against using the privacy curtains she's agreed to use?
Less than two days after school board members approved the settlement, Township High School District 211 Superintendent Daniel Cates issued a statement angrily condemning a top federal official for how she portrayed his description of it.
Cates had said if the student doesn't use privacy curtains when changing or showering, she won't be granted unrestricted access to the locker room. Federal officials countered that the agreement does not require her to use a privacy curtain, although the student has said she will do so.
District officials "are outraged by the mischaracterizations in the press by Catherine Lhamon of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and her blatant disregard for the facts of the negotiated agreement," Cates said.
The office "acted in bad faith," so the district will convene an emergency board meeting to discuss actions, "including the potential retraction of the agreement," Cates said. The meeting has been scheduled for Monday at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.
Through a spokeswoman, Lhamon declined to comment Friday.
The student, who has not been identified and wants to remain anonymous, was born male and identifies as female. She filed a federal complaint after being denied unrestricted locker room access. On Nov. 2, after the school district installed privacy curtains in the locker room, federal officials found the district violated the student's rights under Title IX.
The student has said she intends to change behind the curtains. The agreement mentions her intention and the fact that the curtains could be used by the student and "any students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing."
The five-page settlement says, in part, that "based on Student A's representation that she will change in private changing stations in the girls' locker rooms, the District agrees to provide Student A access to locker room facilities designated for female students at school and to take steps to protect the privacy of its students by installing and maintaining sufficient privacy curtains (private changing stations) within the girls' locker rooms to accommodate Student A and any students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing."
Until the settlement, the district had been at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding over the issue.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represents the girl, called Cates' statement Friday "intemperate and inflammatory."
"Our client should be treated as every teenage girl, with the right to exercise her own sense of modesty and privacy," said ACLU spokesman Edwin Yohnka. "Threatening to cut off our client's access to the locker room if she does not promise to use the privacy curtains exclusively simply moves her current segregation from a separate room to a space inside the locker room, as OCR already concluded."