Sunday, July 10, 2016
Grand Jury: San Bernardino County schools should have unisex bathrooms
The San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, by the beginning of the next school year, should convert as many student restrooms as possible to unisex restrooms to ensure the rights of transgender students, the grand jury is recommending.
The recommendations, included in the grand jury’s annual report released July 1, were made in response to an increasing number of lawsuits filed on behalf of transgender students, alleging discrimination in public schools, which have resulted in large monetary settlements paid out by school districts nationwide.
The grand jury recommendations are also in response to Assembly Bill 1266, signed by Gov. Brown in 2013 and now being challenged in the courts, that allow transgender students to use the restroom and locker room specific to their gender preference.
During its investigation, the grand jury interviewed administrators at the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the Redlands Unified School District and Colton Joint Unified School District, and reviewed state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to the civil rights of the LGBT community, mainly transgender students.
Among the grand jury’s findings:
• The schools and district offices visited by the grand jury do not have any unisex restrooms or locker rooms for transgender students, but transgender students are provided access to restrooms in nurse’s offices or faculty restrooms.
• No planning or cost analysis has been done on the modification/conversion of students restrooms and locker rooms to unisex, or construction of unisex restrooms and locker rooms, should AB 1266 be upheld.
• There is no manual for teachers and administrators to address transgender issues.
• Schools and school districts do not specifically identify transgender or gender identity as a protected class in their harassment and discrimination policies.
The grand jury has recommended, among other things:
• The San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools create a task force to determine the financial impact of AB 1266 if it is upheld and required construction at schools to provide the necessary amenities for transgender students
• Prior to the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, convert as many restrooms as possible to unisex restrooms
• Include specific language acknowledging transgender or gender identity in all policies, procedures and documents relating to discrimination, harassment and bullying
• Survey teachers and administrators in elementary, middle, and high schools on necessary training to increase their knowledge and ability to properly handle trasngender situations
According to a national survey conducted in 2011, sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force titled, “Injustice at Every Turn,” 26 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming students in all educational settings reported being denied access to gender-appropriate facilities, including bathrooms. Additionally, 78 percent of surveyed students in grades K-12 reported “alarming rates of harassment, while 35 percent reported being physically assaulted, and 12 percent reported being victims of sexual violence. The harassment was so severe it led to nearly one-sixth — 15 percent — of those surveyed to leave school.
Additionally, 6 percent of those surveyed reported being expelled from school due to their gender identity/expression, while 31 percent reported being harassed by teachers or other staff; 5 percent reported being physically assaulted by teachers or staff;, and 3 percent reported being sexually assaulted by teachers or staff, according to the survey.
In a recent interview, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the 2011 survey was recently redone as the United States Transgender Survey, the results of which will soon be published.
Colton Joint Unified School District spokeswoman Jacquie Paul said district officials are declining comment at this time, deferring to the findings in the grand jury report.
Dan Evans, spokesman for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, said the issues addressed by the grand jury are ones with which school districts throughout the state are confronting. He cited state legislation also referred to in the grand jury report that gives transgender students the right to access restrooms and locker rooms based on the gender with which they identify.
“The reality is that for California schools, a lot of these issues have been addressed by previous legislation,” he said. “Certainly, Assembly Bill 1266 really directly impacts this issue, so it’s not that this issue is one that’s really new for education to have to consider.”
He said he believes the two school districts examined in the grand jury report, Colton and Redlands “are fairly representative of what is taking place in our county, in that schools are supporting these students on an individual basis and providing accommodations to make sure they are comfortable and not being discriminated against.”
Evans said he does not know yet whether the superintendent would follow the jury’s recommendation to set up task forces addressing various transgender student rights’ issues at schools.
“I’m sure it is one that will certainly be discussed,” Evans said, noting that the agency has a task force this year on African-American student achievement.
Redlands Unified Superintendent Lori Rhodes said it is a big undertaking, both in policy, process and procedure, to convert existing student restrooms to unisex restrooms.
“But we will certainly review the report closely,” said Rhodes. “We were pleased that the report findings were in support of everything we’re doing in Redlands.”
Rhodes said the district is very aware of making sure transgender students are comfortable using the restroom of their identifying sex.
“You can see we’ve been very proactive in providing information on anything that’s about transgender rights, including things from the (state) Department of Education or Title IX or those kinds of things,” she said.
July 5, 2016
San Bernardino Sun
By Joe Nelson