Dallas schools look at increased privacy

DALLAS — The Dallas School board heard recommendations from the Superintendent Facilities Committee at its Monday meeting to provide more privacy for all students.

The board took no action Monday because it and Superintendent Michelle Johnstone are waiting for further instructions on access of transgender students to restrooms and locker rooms from the Oregon Department of Education.

Recommendations include converting existing single-stall restrooms used by school staff into gender neutral restrooms available to students and creating private spaces in locker room changing areas and showers.

Restroom facilities throughout the district will be remodeled to create more privacy for all users. Restrooms stall doors and walls will be replaced with taller doors and walls that eliminate gaps that can be seen through.

At Dallas High School, the existing coaches’ shower and locker room space could be converted to a gender neutral facility. “Team rooms” in the locker rooms could also be changed into private changing areas. Single-stall restrooms in the theater wing at DHS could be converted to gender neutral.

Johnstone said she’s been asking ODE for its decision, which was supposed to be released this month, but hasn’t heard back yet. That guidance may be affected by a recent federal appeals court ruling that said Title IX protections include transgender students.

“Last I’ve known is that it was held up at the Department of Justice,” she said. “I’m hoping that the court cases that have been recently heard will help push it through just a little bit more.”

LaCreole Middle School ended up being a problem because of the layout of the school.

“I’m not sure at LaCreole that we ever came up with a good, solid solution,” Facilities Manager Kevin Montague said. “I believe we did for the restroom piece of it, but the shower component is a challenge.”

He said private changing areas are available, but not private access to showers.

All three elementary schools and Morrison have single-occupancy restrooms that could be converted.

Montague said touring the facilities revealed that attitudes toward privacy has been changing for decades. He said evidence is at all three of the elementary schools, which had functioning showers in the past.

“At one point in time we showered in the elementary levels and, culturally, we have shifted away from that,” he said.

Montague sees the concern over locker room and restroom use as less to do with gender identity than a cultural shift toward wanting more privacy for everyone.

“I believe that the transgender discussion is not the driver of this,” Montague said. “I think it’s the flashpoint, but I think culturally this shift has been happening for a long time.”

Committee member Dave Hunt agreed.

“The number of students who actually take advantage of the shower at the middle school, minimal,” he said. “That is true of the high school, except for the sports teams … and even they aren’t entirely comfortable with how that is set up.”

Some remodeling of the restrooms — mostly replacing stall walls and doors — was already planned through a maintenance bond before the privacy issue was raised late last year. Those improvements were estimated at $200,000. The additional work would add about $300,000.

Montague said he believed the maintenance bond could be used for the remodels, but wanted the district to check with its attorneys.

Four people commented on the recommendation Monday, all in favor of it.

Rickreall resident Shirley Bushnell, a transgender woman who spoke before the board Monday, said she appreciated the effort the district put into examining how to accommodate students, especially in light of limited resources.

“You have facilities and you have money,” she said. “At least there is a willingness to look at it.”

Dallas resident Carol Christ, a former teacher, said the proposed changes will help with the ultimate goal in the schools: educating students.

“I want our district to continue to take the steps to prevent discrimination, to increase safety and positive learning opportunities,” she said.

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