Transgender Komarek student wins case in state ruling

Youngster was barred from boys' bathroom in 2015

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Last year the Illinois Human Rights Commission ordered Komarek School District 94 to pay $55,000 in damages for causing emotional distress to a transgendered boy at the school after school officials had initially refused to allow the boy to use the boys' bathrooms at the school for about six months in 2015. The Human Rights Commission also ordered Komarek to pay $100,000 in attorney fees to the lawyers who represented the boy's family in the case and also ordered Komarek to pay $3,610 in legal costs.

In legal documents the boy is referred to only by his initials, P.S., to protect his privacy.

"The commission's ruling means so much to our son and to our entire family – who love him very much," said the parents of P.S. in a statement released through the ACLU of Illinois. "Requiring that our son be treated like every other boy in his class is extremely important for him, but also for so many other young people who have faced similar problems at school."

The Landmark is not revealing the names of the boy's parents who are identified only as Michael S. and Andrea E. in the opinion written by Administrative Law Judge William J. Borah of the Human Rights Commission. The commission entered its order on Sept. 11, 2019 ruling that the bathroom ban amounted to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Komarek Superintendent Brian Ganan said that insurance will cover Komarek's costs.

"We have insurance for the liability costs," Ganan said.

The district has been allowing the student to use the boys' bathrooms at the school since late 2015.

P.S. was born a female but as a second grader in 2013 P.S. told his mother he preferred to be a male and began dressing and identifying as a male. About a year later P.S. began openly identifying as a male at Komarek.

The bathroom issue came up as P.S. was getting ready to enter fourth grade in 2015. At Komarek pre-kindergarten through third-grade classrooms have unisex bathrooms. In March 2015 near the end of P.S.'s  third-grade year then Superintendent Neil Pellicci told P.S.'s parents and the school community that P.S. would not be allowed to use the boys' bathrooms as a fourth-grader and instead could use the adult male faculty and staff bathroom. That decision stayed in effect until October 2015.

P.S.'s parents then sought an injunction to prevent the school from prohibiting P.S from using the boys' bathroom. Ultimately the case was transferred to the state Human Relations Commission which ruled the bathroom ban was harmful to P.S. and discriminatory.

"The ban and use the adult male restroom further brands and segregates P.S.," Borah wrote in his ruling. "It publicly invites unnecessary scrutiny and questioning from inquisitive or mean spirited students, further isolating P.S. The shame of being singled out and stigmatized is a devastating blow to a vulnerable child with documented mental health issues, and places him at risk."

P.S., who is now 13 and still attends Komarek, suffered from gender dysphoria, defined as when one experiences discomfort because of a mismatch between one's gender identity and one's biological sex. P.S. had been diagnosed as suffering from gender dysphoria by a psychologist at Lurie Children's Hospital Gender and Sex Development Program. Borah ruled that gender dysphoria is a disability and allowing P.S. to use the boys' bathrooms was a reasonable accommodation to the disability.

In 2016 when P.S. was nine years old his name was legally changed to a male name and he is identified as male on his state identification card.

The ban on P.S. using the boys' bathroom was lifted on Oct. 15, 2015, a few months after Ganan replaced Pellicci as superintendent and after P.S.'s parents had gone to court to try and overturn the ban.  

"I'm happy that it's over with," Ganan said. "I'm very comfortable with where we are in the situation with the student as long as the student is comfortable. We wanted the student to feel safe and at home here."

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and from the Schiff Hardin law firm represented the family of P.S. in the case. 

P.S.'s parents said the case proved an important point.

"While the more than four years we have fought for our son has been difficult for us at times, we never regretted our decision to take this battle on. We're thrilled to see it finally coming to an end so that our son can focus his attention on learning, spending time with his friends, and planning for the future without worrying about his school once again challenging his right to be treated like the other boys at his school." 

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