District Denying Transgender Student's Use of Locker Room Violates Title IX
Nov 2015 | School Law
The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) determined that a public school district in Illinois violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 when it would not permit a transgender student to utilize the locker room designated for the sex for which the Student identified as or by otherwise imposing restrictive conditions on her use of locker room facilities.
The Student was born male and from a young age identified as female, eventually transitioning to living full-time as a young woman. The Student and her parents communicated extensively with the District about issues related to the Student’s move from junior high to high school, including which gender-oriented locker room that the District would permit the Student to use. The Student was required to change clothes in order to complete mandatory physical education courses and other extracurricular activities that she participated in. The District honored the Student’s request to be treated as a female in all other respects, but the District would not allow the Student to use the women’s locker room. While the parties discussed alternative accommodations, they could not come to a resolution that would allow the Student comparable facilities to other students who utilized the District locker rooms.
The District defended its decision by asserting its interest in balancing the rights of all students, including the constitutional privacy interests of high school students. The District stated that students’ privacy rights would be violated if it granted the Student the option to change her clothes in the girls’ locker room because those circumstances would expose young female students to a biologically male body in the girls’ locker room.
OCR found these and other arguments made by the District to be unavailing and determined that the District’s decision violated Title IX—a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Particularly, the law provides that all students, including transgender students, are protected from sex-based discrimination. OCR determined that the Student received an unequal opportunity to benefit from the District’s educational program by being denied access to the women’s locker room. This was exacerbated by the ongoing sense of isolation and ostracism that the Student experienced by being denied the same opportunities that were afforded to other students and her teammates. OCR concluded that the District excluded the Student from participation in and denied her the benefits of its education program on the basis of the Student’s sex.
While this decision is fact-specific and does not stand as a general rule of law or official OCR position, it does represent a landmark determination by the federal Department of Education to include transgender students within the scope of protection of the anti-discrimination laws that it is tasked to enforce.
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