Judge Denies ACLU Bid to Violate Student Privacy at Palatine High School

Thomas Olp

Thomas Olp, Senior Counsel for the Thomas More Society

The privacy rights of thousands of Illinois students were protected when, on January, 26, 2018, an Illinois judge denied the American Civil Liberties Union an order that would have allowed a biological male unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room at Palatine’s Township High School District 211 in the northwest Chicago suburbs. Attorneys from the Thomas More Society have been representing Students and Parents for Privacy, a group of more than 100 concerned parents and students from schools in District 211. Together, they have been fighting the ACLU’s attempt to twist the Illinois Human Rights Act to force schools to allow students unrestricted access to the locker rooms of the opposite sex as suits their preferred “gender identity.” 

“The entire concept is an unprecedented and unjustified invasion of the personal and bodily privacy of school students,” said Thomas Olp, Senior Counsel for the Thomas More Society. “We are pleased with this latest development in Maday v. Township High School District 211.

The court denied the ACLU’s motion for preliminary injunction, basing its decision on a 2010 Illinois Human Rights Act amendment requiring that schools may not ‘deny access to their facilities,” explained Olp. “This standard for schools was held by the court to be actually less strict than the normal standard under the Human Rights Act requiring a public accommodation to provide ‘full and equal enjoyment of…facilities.Since the biologically male student who identifies as female was given access by the school to the girls’ locker room but was required to dress in a privacy stall in the locker room, this restriction did not constitute a ‘denial of access’ and was therefore lawful. We are pleased that the judge rejected the ACLU’s interpretation of the law, which would have required schools to provide unrestricted (‘full and equal’) access to opposite sex privacy facilities in schools. Still, our clients, who are students and parents of students in District 211 schools, oppose any access given to students of the opposite sex to sex-segregated facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms, irrespective of gender identity. The Human Rights Act (“HRA”) has a specific exemption (Section 5-103) protecting sex-segregated privacy facilities against claims of sex discrimination precisely to protect the personal privacy and dignity of students while dressing, undressing, and performing bodily functions. Since District 211’s restriction of the Plaintiff to a curtained changing area within the locker room was based on the Plaintiff’s sex (male), we believe the restriction was lawful under the HRA.

The school district, which serves Palatine, Illinois, gained national attention in 2016 when administrators granted another male student access to girls’ locker rooms after he identified himself as a transgender girl. The Thomas More Society filed a federal lawsuit, Students and Parents for Privacy v. United States Department of Education, on behalf of Students and Parents for Privacy. That suit raises similar privacy claims under federal laws.

The current lawsuit, Madya v. Township High School District 211, was filed in Cook County, Illinois, against the school by the biologically male student who claimed that his “denial of equal access” to the girls’ locker room was “stigmatizing” and a “deprivation of personal dignity.”

When it comes to private facilities like restrooms and locker rooms,” added Olp, “it is lawful and is simple common sense for secondary schools to separate males and females in privacy facilities, including locker rooms and bathrooms. The separation provides needed protection from one sex being exposed to another while robing and disrobing. In addition, with today’s focus on preventing sexual abuse and harassment, for a school to act otherwise is irresponsible. Young people should not be put at risk of becoming victims in the name of so-called gender tolerance.” 

Read the Order Denying Preliminary Injunction here.

Read the “Verified Emergency Petition of Students and Parents for Privacy for Leave to Intervene as of Right or Alternatively by Permission, and Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof,” filed in Maday v. Township High School District 211 by the Thomas More Society on behalf of Students and Parents for Privacy on January 11, 2018, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois County Department – Chancery Division here.

Read additional background on the federal Palatine school case here.