New signs posted near bathrooms and locker rooms have sparked controversy and confusion among students returning from winter break at Brookings Harbor High School.
The signs stated, “Please use the bathroom which best fits your gender identity or expression. Just make sure to wash your hands. thank you, please come again :)”
The LGBTQ + Straight Alliance Club originally placed the signs near the bathrooms.
According to Vice Principal Alex Merritt, the signs were not officially approved before they were put up. He said there might be some confusion about that.
“I was told about the signs after they were posted. After that, the signs became a topic of conversation between the club and (principal) Mrs. (Lisa) Dion,” Merritt said. “Then, the conversation within the school community began.”
Dion said, “We are proud of our students and staff. They are modeling respectful conversations and listening to each other even when emotions are involved.”
Superintendent Sean Gallagher said students want to make sure they are creating and promoting a safe environment.
According to Gallagher, students must feel safe to be safe, and feeling discriminated against doesn’t make you feel safe.
“This is educating people, teaching them what non-discrimination looks like,” Gallagher said.
Dion said the issue is fading and the school is focused on teaching and learning.
Dion said the club’s signs were unprotected and inefficiently affixed. The district has decided to properly install the signs and cover them with plexiglass. The wording and graphics will be unchanged.
Dion and Gallagher said BHHS will add the signs to bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with Brookings Harbor School District (BHSD), Oregon School Boards Association and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) policies.
Club member Brigid Mitchell said the club first put the signs up because they have transgender members and personal friends and wanted them to feel safe and welcome entering bathrooms according to their gender identity and expression.
“Two weeks after break, 50 percent of our signs were gone, and some students bragged about taking them down, she said.
Club members were ecstatic when the signs went up, Mitchell said.
But she said, “There has been boisterous opposition.”
She said opinions on both sides have been expressed respectfully.
Dion also described the discourse as repectful and said, “LGBTQ + Straight Alliance has been around for a couple years and they are great kids.”
Club members will ask the first and last questions when Senator Merkley holds a town hall at the school Monday, according to Dion.
Student Gage Westbrook said the signs are pushing an agenda and trying to be inclusive for a small group of people while disregarding the thoughts and opinions of many students.
“I believe the school administration is forcing a political viewpoint on students and trying to influence the political stances of students,” he added.
Westbrook felt the signs represents the school taking a political stance and doing so borders on indoctrination.
Gallagher referred to a joint statement by The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to explain why permanent signs were being installed:
“Under Title IX, discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. As such, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that matches his (her) gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX.”
But Gallagher also said a transgender student who intends to transition facilities must undergo a private process. A private meeting will be held with the student, parents, counselors and the principal, and the administration will know which bathrooms or locker rooms the student will be using, according to Gallagher.
Dion asked parents or anyone who has concerns about the new signs to call her, stop by the school or email.
She emphasized no facilities have been changed, the communal restrooms have stalls, and the school still has one-person unisex restrooms. Transgender students or other students who feel uncomfortable using the larger restrooms can use the smaller, unisex bathrooms alone, Dion said.
More information can be found in the Oregon Department of Education: Guidelines to School Districts: Creating a Safe and Supportive Environment for Transgender Students
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org