In-Depth News

Does New Policy Mean Co-ed Bathrooms?

The Southampton School Board passed a controversial resolution on April 9 that could lead to a co-ed atmosphere in bathrooms, locker rooms, and even shower facilities, critics complained.

Approximately 50 people were there at the meeting, to question school board members about, among other topics, its Student Harassment and Bullying Prevention policy. The board members, for the most part, did not respond to requests for comment from attendees, many of whom said they could not comprehend the language in the policy.

Nonetheless, the policy was unanimously adopted.

The policy states gender discrimination is prohibited. “Gender identity is one’s self-conception as being male or female, as distinguished from actual biological sex or sex assigned at birth.” It further defines discrimination as, “The act of denying rights, benefits, justice, equitable treatment, or access to facilities available to all.”

Charles Styler of North Sea, who attended the meeting, said the board’s refusal to answer questions about the policy makes it impossible to form an educated opinion. “I have yet to see the details.

I’m not sure how to deal with this,” he said.

Styler voiced a sentiment shared by many in attendance: “If I had a daughter in the school, I wouldn’t want a male in the bathroom with her.”

School board president Roberta Hunter, who championed the controversial policy, said there is the possibility that mixed genders might share intimate facilities, according to resident James Boyd. “When I asked Ms. Hunter during the March 20 board meeting, she described facilities to include showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms,” Boyd said.

Hunter has denied The Independent’s requests for comment. Styler said she called the new policy “a living document,” which left him with even more doubts. “What does that mean? I’d like to know how you implement that.” The bottom line, he said is, “The public has the right to be heard. When the board declines questions, it is not the democratic way to do things.”

New York State has one of the most proactive policies in the nation in dealing with bullying and harassment on school grounds.

The Dignity for All Students Act was signed into law in 2010. It combats bias-based bullying, harassment, and discrimination in public schools, and includes awareness and sensitivity in interpersonal relationships, including individuals of different races, weights, national origins, ethnicity, religions or religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, or expression.

Shortly after he was elected President, Donald Trump issued an executive order to rescind the federal bathroom policy for transgender students, kicking it back to individual states. The guidelines had allowed transgender students the right to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “School districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school.”

“Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities across New York State, yet statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday,” said State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia. “We must do everything in our power to create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all.”

“Since it appears that facilities, showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms cannot be denied to a person that can change their mind about their sexual orientation regardless of their physical sex, this could lead to a situation where boys could enter the girls’ showers and vice versa,” Boyd said in a letter to school officials and board members. “This, in my opinion, would produce a dangerous environment in these facilities.”

“Bullying should never be tolerated,” Styler said. “But where do you draw the line?”

Styler and Michael Medio will vie for one vacant school board seat. The incumbents, besides Hunter, are Donald King, Anastasia Gavalas, James Mckenna, Jacqueline Robinson, and SunHe Sherwood-Dudley.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com