SRVUSD implements pilot program for multi-gender multi-stall bathrooms in district high schools

On May 22, at a district board meeting, a pilot program for the conversion of one multi-stall bathroom at each high school to an all-gender restroom was approved with a 4–1 vote; at DV, the downstairs 2000 bathroom was converted during the last week of the 2017-18 school year.

Assistant Superintendent Toni Taylor introduced the issue as “[arising] from the need to ensure that all students, irrespective of their gender identity, feel safe and included.”

San Ramon Valley High School Gender & Sexuality Alliance President Ce-Lai Fong and Monte Vista High School ASB President Brady Martin contextualized the issue for the board and public.

“As a representative of one of our high schools, I confidently speak for all of our students when I say that an all-gender restroom is needed on-campus in order to provide [the] security and safety needed,” Martin said.

Following Martin and Fong, several students and a few parents came out in support of the initiative.

“I am genderqueer — using the bathroom has been a source of unneeded discomfort … my options were either misgendering myself and having to use the female restroom or having to hold it in all day,” said Monte Vista High School senior Hayley France. “I have escaped relatively unscathed because of my conventionally feminine appearance, so I could use the female restrooms without suspicion. Other students, however, are not so lucky, and face harassment or even outright violence because of their nonconforming gender expression.”

California High School Principal Sarah Cranford further stated that there is “unanimous support from administration” across the district to implement an all-gender restroom at each of the district’s high schools. Cranford added that an all-gender, multi-stall restroom had already been implemented to no ill effect at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, a claim later corroborated by Board Member Rachel Hurd.

Single-stall restrooms, for use by students and staff of any gender, are currently available at all four high schools — seven are currently available at DVHS — in response to AB 1732, a law passed on March 1, 2017 amending the California Health and Safety Code to require all single-stall restrooms in the state to be identified as usable for all genders.

However, many students feel as though these single stall restrooms aren’t enough.

“It’s important we feel like we don’t have to walk across campus,” notes Ren Pola, the Public Relations Manager of GSA at Cal High.

Numerous parents and a few students present at the meeting, however, were against the proposal, fearing that their children — in particular, their daughters — would find themselves vulnerable to sexual assault in this restroom.

“I am completely disgusted that you are even thinking of having a multi-gender stall bathroom,” Elizabeth Brown, a Monte Vista High School student, expressed. “Having a gender neutral bathroom is just as bad as putting a video camera in the bathroom.”

Opposers of the pilot program also made the suggestion that the idea hasn’t been fleshed out within the community well enough for the board to vote on the issue, and proposed a survey to raise awareness.

Nathaniel Yu, the Elected ASB President of SRVHS, tried to spread his own survey among students and parents, and reached out to administration and the PTSA to solicit their help in spreading the survey to the rest of the community. According to emails provided to the Tribune, neither group assisted in spreading the survey.

Yu’s survey, after being distributed to a focus group, was distributed to all SRVHS students via LoopMail on May 8, and was completely voluntary. According to a summary of the results he presented at the board meeting, over 700 students responded.

Just over 400 respondents anticipated problems in an all-gender restroom; just under 80 percent stated a preference for using a single-gender multi-stall restroom over an all-gender one.

In his comments to the board, Yu emphasized that he remains neutral on the issue.

“I am here to represent SRVHS and not my own personal opinion,” he stated.

Board Member Hurd later addressed Yu’s concerns about surveying the public before implementing the initiative.

“You do not get it when you start talking about surveys,” Hurd stated. “This is a disability accommodation, accessibility issue. When we have a student that needs to get into an older classroom in a wheelchair, and there’s not a ramp, we build a ramp. We don’t consult the community, we don’t ask the parents, we don’t ask anybody; we do it, because it’s the right thing to do.”

In response to Hurd’s comments, Yu stated, “I feel that I did my job tonight. I shared my results with the board. I just hope that everyone is able to share their voice.”

In addition to safety concerns, some parents feared that the program was a slippery slope to a complete lack of single-gender restrooms.

“We already implemented single-stall restrooms, and the voice we heard today was ‘that’s not enough,’” said parent Sheila Wang. “‘We need just one multi-stall bathroom today.’ Can anybody guarantee at this time next year there won’t be another voice saying, ‘hey, our campus is so huge, we only have one … we need two, three, four, five,’ how many is enough?”

Not all parents were opposed to the proposal, however. Art Fong, parent of Ce-Lai Fong, cited his child’s status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community as a reason for his support of the bill.

“I understand the concern about safety,” he asserted. “But consider this: there are certain students who don’t feel safe right now.”

Later in the evening, some came to the podium to speak in favor of the bill once again. Ashton Coons, a student at SRVHS, delivered a particularly impassioned testimony.

“When I came out to my mom, she threatened to kill me. She told me that she wished she had an abortion,” Coons said. “I joined the school’s GSA, and it honestly saved my life. And it showed me that the staff really care, about me and every student there. So I think these bathrooms are a huge supporting mechanism for these students, because when they see that all gender neutral sign, they will see that the district cares about each student.”

Due to the overwhelming abundance of speakers commenting on both sides of the issue, the board had to extend the end time of the meeting from 10 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and eventually to 11:30 p.m.

At around 11:15, the Board began discussing this proposal amongst themselves before taking it to a vote.

The discussion started with comments from Denise Jennison, who was at her last meeting as a board member of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, giving a rousing speech in favor of the proposal.

“The fact is that when young people who are questioning their gender or struggling with their gender identity or fully committed to their gender identity and committed to who they are — when they are using single-gender restrooms, they are in danger.”

Board member Greg Marvel, however, expressed his concerns about the implementation of this pilot program, validating the concerns proposed by the parents and remaining the sole dissenting voice on the educational board.

“The reality is we’re not ready for it.”

Marvel proposed single-stall restrooms as an alternative, asserting that the existing five to seven gender-neutral single stall restrooms seem “pretty adequate,” adding that more single-stall restrooms should be added if necessary.

Citing concerns of sexual assault, Marvel invoked the safety of kids’ intimacy, asking “how can we make sure kids are safe, when kids … are doing the most intimate thing you can do outside your home and that’s to go to a public restroom … and you’re undressing partially [or] sometimes fully.”

Hurd spoke out on the need for a sense of “community” a gender-neutral bathroom would provide for queer students, adding that having people around in the bathroom would protect against assault.

On May 23, the day after the board meeting, a school-wide LoopMail was sent out to the student body informing them of the implementation of the pilot project on Tuesday, May 29.

Questions also arose based on similar concerns from the student body.

Many felt the decision came out of nowhere, and was in response to a non-issue. Junior Andrea Muljono was “shocked.”

“In addition, as a female, I personally would not feel to comfortable sharing a bathroom with a male,” she said, citing “sexual harassment.”

The findings of the pilot project will be reviewed after the completion of the first semester of the 2018-2019 school year. After this review, the board will decide whether or not to continue this program.