‘This helps everyone to feel comfortable, accepted…’
The bathrooms still have an open alcove area with a common trough sink, but the toilets are enclosed inside individual stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and lockable doors.
A single sign on the wall outside displays both the male and female symbols.
North Kansas City first tried the gender-neutral design when it opened its Northland Innovation Center for gifted students in 2016. That was a year after one of the district’s four high schools, Oak Park, made national headlines when it became one of the first in the country to crown a transgender student its homecoming queen.
“I think it is great,” said Melanie Austin, whose daughter will be a first-grader at the district’s Crestview Elementary and in gifted classes once a week at the innovation center. “You just don’t know what gender a kid might identify as. This helps everyone to feel comfortable, accepted.”
The district’s new schools and bathrooms were designed by Hollis + Miller, a Kansas City architecture firm known for innovative school buildings.
“Students said they like these restrooms better because they are more private,” said Rochel Daniels, executive director of organizational development for the district.
In addition, she said, teachers can better monitor students because they can stand in the common area while the bathrooms are in use. Before, a female teacher could supervise girls in the bathroom, but she could not walk into the boys bathroom.
The district does not have a policy that speaks to transgender or gender-neutral restrooms, but “we do have a policy about non-discrimination,” Daniels said. “The restrooms became a point where we can provide for all students. The design was a decision based on privacy, safety and security for all students.”
Gender-neutral restrooms are not forced by federal or even state law but rather are a decision of individual districts.
“We trust school boards like North Kansas City to be very attuned to local constituents and to make the very best decisions with regard to their student population,” said Chris Neale, assistant commissioner of quality schools for the Missouri state education department.
During the administration of President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines to public schools saying students should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, not necessarily the gender on their birth certificates. Many area districts, including Kansas City Public Schools, began offering one or two single-stall bathrooms for students to use.
However, other, more nuanced, implications of the order quickly became clear as questions arose regarding everything from locker-room showers to building code violations to which pronouns teachers must use.
Last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded the guideline.
The Americans With Disabilities Act does not directly address transgender discrimination but does consider gender dysphoria a disability, making it eligible for protection.
“If there was a law that addressed this it would be our job to implement it,” Neale said.
©2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.