ETHS passes transgender locker room policy


Katie Pach/The Daily Northwestern

Audience members stand in support of a new transgender policy. The ETHS school board voted Monday 6-1 to pass a policy that will allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Ryan Wangman, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston Township High School/District 202 board voted six to one at a meeting Monday to pass a policy that will allow transgender students to use the locker room of their choice.

The policy, which was introduced last month, was crafted after the Board Policy Committee decided it needed language to better support its gender discrimination policy. ETHS superintendent Eric Witherspoon commended the board for taking “a huge step forward” at Monday’s meeting in front of more than 50 students and parents.

“I hope you understand that this board just made history,” Witherspoon said. “These are people who have put in place statements and policy about honoring transgender students in a way that no other district that we know of in the state has (done).”

During the meeting, audience members held up homemade posters and typed-up signs urging board members to vote for the policy. A multi-colored sign distributed at the door by a student read “Vote Tonight For Equity.”

Previously, transgender students could use the bathroom of their choice at ETHS but had to request access to a separate locker room. Students, teachers and administrators who spoke to The Daily last fall, however, shared different interpretations of those procedures, and none could point to any public documentation.

Board member Gretchen Livingston, who voted for the policy, said the board had an obligation to “do better” for its students. She said transgender students having to use a separate locker room was a problem that required the board to take another look at its policies and procedures.

“Simply put, we do not treat our students differently on the basis of characteristics like skin color or disability, nor should we do so on the basis on gender identity,” Livingston said.

The policy passed among state and national controversy surrounding transgender rights.

The Trump administration rescinded in February federal protections put in place by Barack Obama that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room that align with their gender identity. In a two-page “Dear Colleague” letter, the Trump administration said that previous guidelines did not “contain extensive legal analysis” or “undergo any formal public process.”

In Illinois, the debate has centered around a Palatine-based school district that in 2016 allowed a transgender student to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding with their gender identity. The action sparked a pending lawsuit by more than 50 families.

Doug Holt, who voted against ETHS’ new policy, told The Daily he thinks there is legal uncertainty regarding transgender policy. He said that privacy has also been a concern in talking with community members and when looking at the Palatine lawsuit.

“The other side is that a locker room is not a place for educational opportunities; it’s a place where you have an expectation of privacy,” Holt said at the meeting.

Before passing the policy, the board voted to remove a line that required the superintendent to form an advisory committee of stakeholders. Various board members emphasized their commitment to hearing community voices, but cautioned against mandating that the superintendent form a committee.

Later during the meeting, the board also gained two new members, and another two members saw their terms renewed. The new members — Jude Laude and Patricia Maunsell — replaced Holt and Anne Sills on the board, and joined Livingston and Pat Savage-Williams as the four members elected in the April municipal election.

After the new board was sworn in, they reelected Savage-Williams and Monique Parsons as president and vice president of the board, respectively. They each ran unopposed for one-year terms.

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