Illinois families fight transgender access to school locker room

August 15, 2016 5:08 PM EDT

A sign points at the WC restrooms in Troisdorf near Bonn, western Germany. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A lawyer for dozens of families from a suburban Chicago high school district argued in court on Monday that students' privacy was being violated at a school that allowed a transgender girl access to the girls' locker room under an agreement with the federal government.

A group of 63 students and 73 parents from Township High School District 211 challenged the agreement in federal court and is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement.

Lawyers for the district, the U.S. Department of Education and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that no one is harmed by the policy, which was agreed to last September after the ACLU filed a complaint in 2013 on behalf of a transgender student who was born male and identifies as female.

Similar battles are playing out around the country as the Department of Education has told public schools that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

Texas and a dozen other states asked a U.S. judge last week to block the Obama administration's guidance in the matter, saying it usurps the authority of school districts.

In Chicago, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert said he would issue a recommendation in the matter after he reviews all materials. Judge Jorge Alonso will make the decision on an injunction based on Gilbert's recommendation.

Sheila Lieber, an attorney who represents the Department of Education, argued in court at the hearing: "They have pointed to not one single student who has been harmed." The hearing coincided with the first day of school in District 211, which serves Chicago's northwestern suburbs of Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Schaumburg, among others.

Lieber said the school has made curtained stalls available to girls who wanted more privacy in the locker room, but that no one uses them, which she said shows that students are not concerned about the transgender girl's presence.

Jeremy Tedesco, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative group that represents the families, argued that girls who use the locker room feel fear over the possibility that someone born male could see them undressing. He said girls may not be using the private stalls because of an atmosphere at the school of harassment against people who do not agree with the policy.

"It's a violation of girls' right to privacy to have a male student in the locker room," Tedesco told reporters after the hearing.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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