gender neutral bathrooms
© Reuters / Lucy Nicholson
A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine
After addressing the controversial issue of transgender students' access to locker rooms in a few different ways over the past four years, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board members Thursday voted 5-2 to lift a requirement that those students use privacy stalls.

Board members Mark Cramer and Pete Dombrowski dissented. Earlier in the meeting, they were the only board members to vote for Cramer's motion to postpone the vote in favor of an advisory referendum in March.

Some board members said their votes were based on much individual research.

"I myself have been the subject of discrimination all my life," board member Ed Yung said. "I know what these people are fighting for."

While privacy stalls have been made available for all students in locker rooms at the district's five high schools, only transgender students have been required to use them. But when second semester classes begin after the holidays, no such rule will be in effect.

"Discrimination is never an acceptable compromise," board member Kim Cavill said.

Nova Maday, a transgender 2018 graduate of Palatine High School with a discrimination lawsuit pending against the district, said she hoped the decision would influence other districts but doesn't accomplish every improvement she's sought for transgender students. One example of what's not included, she said, is easing the process of getting one's named changed on a student ID.

"It's a great first step," said Maday, who was born male but identifies as female. "It's huge, and school districts all across the state and nation are watching."

But Vicki Wilson, a fellow Palatine resident who co-founded the residents group Students and Parents for Privacy, called the new policy "a joke and a slap in the face."

"When you turn all intimate spaces coed, that's egregious," Wilson said.

She said among the ongoing problems the district is not addressing is that there aren't enough privacy stalls for every student to use each class period, while teens who do or try to use them are ridiculed.

Superintendent Dan Cates addressed the long-running public debate and the district's evolving response to the issue before the board members' discussion and vote.

"One of the biggest concerns we continue to hear is the idea that anyone can go in any locker room whenever they feel like it -- as if a different gender can be declared at will," Cates said. "That's not the way it works in District 211. Upon a request from the student's parent or guardian, a student's stated gender in the official school record establishes the student's gender for access to gender-specific facilities."

He added that there has been no disruption caused by transgender and gender non-conforming students' sharing locker rooms with other students since the current practice was established nearly four years ago. But some opponents of the policy challenged his claim.

The attainment of transgender students' unrestricted access to locker rooms was the goal of the federal complaint in 2015 of a Fremd High School student who had been required to use a private space outside the girls' locker room to change for gym class.

"Student A," as that now-former student continues to be called, was born male but identifies as female.

After District 211's practice was deemed to be in violation of federal anti-discrimination requirements, the district negotiated the arrangement requiring transgender students to use privacy stalls.

That compromise was first challenged by a federal lawsuit filed in May 2016 by Students and Parents for Privacy, arguing that it went too far in violating the privacy rights of other students. The compromise was further challenged in November 2017 by Maday's state lawsuit, arguing that it maintained the discrimination against transgender students that was the basis of Student A's original complaint.

One of the key points of debate over the past four years was whether students still completely undressed in high school locker rooms. Advocates for transgender students' unrestricted access said no, while members and supporters of Students and Parents for Privacy said yes.

Students and Parents for Privacy dropped its lawsuit this April after a judge dismissed portions of it. But members of the group became more vocal again in September after Cates proposed unrestricted access for transgender students.

Members of the public on both sides of the issue have spoken at the last four board meetings. Among the 25 people randomly chosen to speak Thursday, 15 expressed support for the policy and 10 were opposed.