CHICAGO — A Palatine High School student today asked a court to force a suburban Chicago school district to comply with state law and permit the student to use the locker room so that she could take gym. Nova Maday filed the lawsuit against Palatine-based District 211, which previously was found by the U.S. Department of Education to have violated federal law in a similar case.
Nova Maday is an 18-year-old female senior at Palatine High School and is transgender. For most of her time in high school, Nova and her mother have been trying to gain permission to use the girls' locker room for changing as part her physical education classes. Instead, school officials have forced her to change in a nurse's office or in a separate locked, single-user locker room that resulted in her being late for class repeatedly and then offered her a waiver from gym rather than allowing her to use the locker room.
"I just want to be treated like every other girl in our school," said Nova Maday in discussing her action. "Even after the school district agreed to allow another transgender student to use the locker rooms in her school, they have resisted and made things harder for me. I just want to be able to get dressed for P.E. class without having to jump through a bunch of hoops."
Ms. Maday has presented and lived as a girl for more than three years. In 2015, when she felt prepared and comfortable, Ms. Maday and her mother first approached the school about using the girl's locker room to change for physical education class. The school district refused and instead offered her two options. They said that Ms. Maday could change in the nurse's office or in a locked, private changing area — both of which are located away from the gym. The distance from the gym made it difficult for Ms. Maday to get to class on time in order to participate with the other students, and sometimes the location of the class ( indoors or outdoors for example ) was shared with other students in the locker room, but not with Ms. Maday.
Ms. Maday was forced to locate a member of the school staff each day to unlock that room. At times, it would be difficult to locate someone to unlock the door. One time, the locker holding Ms. Maday's P.E. clothes was torn out of the changing area as part of a refurbishing project, because no one seemed to be aware that was where she changed. She was forced to retrieve her clothes from a loading dock.
"It was almost impossible to get into these separate facilities, change and get to class on time," said Ms. Maday. "This would make the P.E. teacher upset and I'd feel more anxious and isolated." "But more importantly having to dress separately from the other girls was pretty devastating to me because it felt like the school was telling me I'm not really a girl or that there is something wrong with me."
District 211 has been the subject of a great deal of attention concerning treatment of transgender students in recent years. In November 2015, the U.S. Department of Education announced its findings — in the case of Student A — that the District was in violation of Title IX for not allowing that student to use the girls' locker room. The District settled those charges and allowed Student A to use the locker room but failed to adopt a district-wide policy allowing all students to use the locker rooms that match their gender identity
In the summer of 2016, a conservative legal group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the District's agreement with Student A ( who has since graduated from high school ) as well as the practice of allowing students who are transgender to use the restrooms appropriate to their gender identity. That lawsuit is still pending in federal court where the district is defending the ability of students to use gender-appropriate facilities.
"It is clear that this school district still discriminates against students who are transgender," said John Knight, LGBTQ Project Director at the ACLU of Illinois. "Nova should be able to use the appropriate locker room and take P.E. like other students, without imposing restrictions on her that no other student is required to follow."
"We want this district's policies to be fair for all students, so that no student is separated from her peers or labeled as different because they are transgender."
The lawsuit was filed today in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In addition to Mr. Knight, lawyers for Ms. Maday include Ghirlandi Guidetti of the ACLU of Illinois and Jeffrey H. Bergman of Mandell Menkes LLC.