CHICAGO (FOX 32/AP) - Chicago Public Schools will allow transgender students and employees to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identities, according to guidelines released Tuesday by the nation's third-largest school district.
The policy, which also applies to "gender non-conforming students," covers all education opportunities, including overnight field trips, and allows for alternative arrangements if requested, such as a single-stall restroom or separate changing schedule.
"CPS, like much of the country, has become far more aware of the needs and experiences of the transgender community, and it's crucial for CPS guidelines to reflect our commitment to promoting safe and inclusive schools," district Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said in a statement.
The issue of which bathrooms transgender people use has become a focus in the national debate over anti-discrimination laws. North Carolina recently enacted a controversial law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms in state government buildings and public schools that match the gender on their birth certificates. Meanwhile, other major school districts — including New York and Los Angeles — already have student policies similar to Chicago's. Last month, a Los Angeles high school opened the district's first gender-neutral bathroom.
Chicago officials said the updated guidelines build on 2014 policy requiring schools to provide transgender students and gender non-conforming students with the same opportunities to participate in physical education, sexual health education, sports, clubs and school events. Under the new rules, administrators at schools will make confidential "support plans" for each student.
School officials consulted legal and medical experts in writing the guidelines and said individual accommodations will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Students will also have the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun "corresponding to the gender identity they consistently assert at school."
"If you let transgenders in bathrooms…if you let everybody go into any bathroom, it be like a guy could just go into the girl's bathroom and they could say, "I'm a girl." So, I think that's a big problem," said Jubril Harris, a senior at Jones College Prep.
In Chicago, advocates for transgender students are pleased with CPS’ new policy. They say being able to use a bathroom without being questioned or harassed makes a student's life a little easier.
“We want to create an environment where every student can learn, even students whose gender identities are not what we expected them to be,” said Owen Daniel-McCarter, the Policy and Advocacy Director of Illinois Sage Schools Alliance.
Transgender students also have the right to "fully participate" in overnight field trips.
Another CPS high school senior FOX 32 talked with wondered what the fuss was about.
“I mean, we're just using the bathroom to do what we have to do. So, like, I don't feel like there would be any reason to feel uncomfortable. You just go in and do what you have to do and walk out,” said Juan Cuecha, a senior at Jones College Prep.
Nearly 400,000 students attend 660 public schools in Chicago.
Advocacy groups, including Equality Illinois, praised the move Tuesday as a way to promote equality.
However, the issue has generated opposition in Illinois before. Some parents protested in suburban Chicago when a transgender student, who was born male, sought girls' locker room access. The girl filed a grievance with the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office after being denied unrestricted access. Federal officials found the district violated the student's rights under Title IX and last year reached an agreement for her to use the locker room. The district has since put privacy stalls in both the girls and boys locker rooms.
FULL CPS STATEMENT: “The guidelines released today will help ensure every student and adult in the CPS family can participate in an environment of complete tolerance and respect,” CPS Chief Education Officer Dr. Janice K. Jackson said in a statement. “CPS, like much of the country, has become far more aware of the needs and experiences of the transgender community, and it’s crucial for CPS guidelines to reflect our commitment to promoting safe and inclusive schools. These guidelines build on our commitment to fostering healthy and supportive learning opportunities across the District so that each of our students can reach their full potential.”