Girls Sharing Showers with Boys at Public Schools

Matt Sharp | December 15, 2015 | 10:04am EST
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(AP Photo/Craig Fritz)

The U.S. Department of Education was off-base in its threat to strip all federal funding from the Palatine Township School District because the district is not allowing a male student who identifies as a female to have full access to the girl’s locker rooms. Unfortunately, that threat resulted in the district agreeing to an ill-advised settlement that does not afford proper respect to the privacy of other students.

This is not about discrimination against transgender students. The student here is allowed to fully live as a female at school. Rather, this is about acknowledging that immutable biological and physical differences exist between boys and girls which dictate separate spaces for such intimate activity.

Specifically, the male student demanded the right to shower and change with the girls after physical education classes and swimming. The district offered the student numerous accommodations: he is addressed by a female name, plays on female sports teams, and dresses like a female. But out of an understandable desire to protect girls’ privacy, and under looming threats from the Department of Education, the school offered a compromise that allowed the student to shower and change in a separate area in the girl’s locker room

This compromise sets a dangerous precedent and still violates the privacy rights of every girl who now must share a locker room with a biological male.

Our society has long recognized that biological differences require us to provide separate facilities for boys and girls when bathing, changing, or using the restroom so that a person is never forced to have their unclothed body exposed to (or to be exposed to the unclothed bodies of) the opposite sex. The common-sense belief in modesty impels our society’s insistence on separate facilities, and it is a belief that Americans both with and without a religious affiliation share.

Nonetheless, this has become an issue because the Department of Education is wrongly claiming that Title IX, a law Congress passed more than 40 years ago to ensure females have equal access to educational opportunities, somehow requires schools to allow a student to use the restroom of the opposite sex. The problem here is that Title IX says exactly the opposite.

When Congress was debating Title IX, a member asked whether it would require schools to allow guys into girls’ locker rooms and dormitories. The answer: Absolutely not! Whenever privacy or safety is involved, schools can maintain separate facilities for the sexes. So to clear up any confusion, they wrote into the federal law that schools can “provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex.”

And if there was any remaining confusion on what Title IX says, this year, two federal courts (in Pennsylvania and Virginia) affirmed that a school does not violate Title IX by regulating access to restrooms and locker rooms based on students’ biological sex.

Despite the clear legal precedent granting school districts the authority to decide the best method to protect the privacy rights of students, the federal government is once again inserting itself into local affairs and imposing substantial burdens on schools. The Palatine Township School District has thus become another victim of unnecessary bullying by federal bureaucrats.

What happened in Illinois should serve as a call to other school districts across the nation to not give in to the U.S. Department of Education’s bullying and its baseless demand that the interests of students play second fiddle to the administration’s political preferences.

Matt Sharp is legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which offered a legally sound model student privacy policy to Township High School District 211 in October.

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