O’Fallon school board rewrites its rules for transgender students

The largest elementary school district in O’Fallon decided on Tuesday night to rewrite its rules for transgender students, allowing them to wear their preferred name on their school IDs.

The old rules had been added to O’Fallon District 90’s anti-discrimination policy after a transgender student asked to use the bathroom in the nurse’s office two years ago. They spelled out expectations for students’ ID badges, bathroom usage and involvement in sports.

Before the board met Tuesday, two state groups had suggested it revise the policy, with one saying it fell in “unsettled areas of the law” and another saying it was “pretty clearly in violation of three laws.”

Board members have said their goal with the policy was to give school administrators directions to follow if another transgender student sought accommodations in the future, taking parents’ concerns and state and federal laws into account.

The biggest difference in the rewrite is that it will allow students to choose the name that appears on their IDs and on the class rosters their teachers use. Students will soon be able to tell the school their preferred names once a year with their parents’ consent.

CJ Casconi, a transgender man who used to attend O’Fallon elementary schools, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, when board members voted 5-2 on changes to the policy. He thanked the board and noted that Nov. 20 was the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“It makes a difference — the policy that you guys just passed,” he said. “And I know, I said it in my email, I know it seems really trivial, and I know you guys really got tired of talking about that and hammering that out and fine tuning it. But, at least my perspective, in the community it matters, and I’m really appreciative.”

Concerns about policy lead to changes

Casconi had emailed board members to express his support for changing the rule for IDs, which used to say they would only include “legal names” and biological sex.

Rodrigo Anzures-Oyorzabal, the policy and advocacy manager for the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, had also reached out to the board with concerns about the policy.

According to Anzures-Oyorzabal, students have the right to use bathrooms and locker rooms and play on sports teams that match their gender and have school records changed to reflect their identity.

In an interview Tuesday, Anzures-Oyorzabal said he thought the board’s new policy would be an improvement, but he still didn’t think it was going to meet the needs of transgender students.

The rewrite gives students the option of asking the athletic association overseeing their sport for permission to play on the team that matches their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

They can also use a gender-neutral bathroom, such as the one in the nurse’s office; that alternative had been included in the original draft of the policy, too.

Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said he thinks District 90’s old rules for transgender students actually violated several laws — including the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX — all of which protect students from discrimination.

Equality Illinois is the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ people.

Johnson noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which includes Illinois, made a precedent-setting decision in 2017. The appeals court sided with a transgender student who had sued to use the boys bathroom at school.

In that case, the court decided that providing a gender‐neutral alternative wasn’t enough to relieve the school district from liability.

The Illinois Association of School Boards was another group that offered advice about the policy to District 90. IASB is a nonprofit group that will recommend updates to school districts’ policies based on changes in the law, for example, if they pay for that service.

“Adopting separate policies or inserting policy statements about accommodations and inclusion of transgender students in the educational program are unsettled areas of the law,” IASB stated in a note to the board.

Controversial in O’Fallon

Earlier this year, several people and groups — including Casconi, the safe schools alliance and Equality Illinois — asked District 90 board member Steve Springer to step down after emails he sent about a transgender student came to light in May.

He was responding to the superintendent’s message to the board that a transgender boy would be using the nurse’s office to take bathroom breaks and change for P.E. back in 2016.

“It seems that you have decided to change the God given biological makeup of this student without input from a court, the BOE or God,” Springer wrote. “The child is a girl. She needs to be referred to as a girl.

“I am saddened that she is having such problems and is confused. But confused is the status, and confusion is not a reason for the district to stand on it’s (sic) head.”

Springer then asked that the board begin drafting a policy for transgender students, which it would write over the next year and eventually approve. All but one board member voted in favor of the old rules, because Jason Boone was absent from that meeting.

Board members Boone, Matt Lloyd, Becky Drury, Rebecca Huller and Mary Baskett all voted in favor of the revision on Tuesday.

Springer and board president John Wagnon voted against it. They said during the meeting that they preferred a slightly different version of the revision, which still would have allowed students to change their names on their IDs and ask to play on the sports teams that match their gender identity.

“I know this board strives to do the right thing,” Wagnon said Tuesday night. “And while we may have disagreements and discussions and debates and all that, I appreciate all of that, frankly. I mean, I think that that’s healthy.”

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