Comfort, communication -- and the lack of both | Around the Valley | Gina Channell Wilcox | |

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By Gina Channell Wilcox

Comfort, communication -- and the lack of both

Uploaded: Sep 17, 2022

Danielle Solito was justifiably upset when she spoke about her daughter’s “extremely uncomfortable” experience at school.

Solito said her 15-year-old daughter and her friends felt ill at ease when they went to change in the locker room at San Ramon Valley High School and, according to her daughter, “there was a person who was definitely not a girl changing in the girls locker room.”

Solito continued that her daughter was told this person identifies as a girl, but “she was able to see they were, in fact, anatomically a boy.”

The discomfort has nothing to do with how anyone chooses to identify, Solito assured, but has everything to do with being a teenage girl.

“My daughter is kind to everyone and doesn’t have a discriminatory bone in her body. But she is a 15-year-old girl who is self conscious,” she explained. “Being a 15-year-old girl, you don’t want to change in front of 15-year-old girls, let alone a 15-year-old boy.”

To make matters even more awkward, the girl told Solito the person in question was wearing sunglasses while changing in the locker room.

“If you’re in a locker room, with a bunch of girls, and you’re wearing sunglasses? They have sunglasses that can take pictures and video. The girls don’t know where he’s looking and we don’t know what kind of sunglasses they are,” Solito said.

I was once a 15-year-old girl – and I raised girls who were 15 not too long ago – so I totally understand the teenage girls’ unease. Being a mother, I totally understand Solito’s vexation.

“I emailed the principal, Whitney Cottrell, and asked her a slew of questions. Basically ‘what are you going to be doing to protect my daughter?’ Solito said. “I wanted to know what the requirements are for a person who wants to change in a bathroom that is different from their gender. What does the school require from the parents or from a doctor?

“They spent that $1.8 million on equity (liaisons),” she continued. “I thought it was supposed to be equitable across the board. So what are they doing to make sure my daughter feels just as comfortable as this person?”

The response from Cottrell three days later was, according to Solito, “basically a copy-and-paste and said ‘We are following the law of AB blah, blah, blah. Here’s the answer to all your questions.’”

“She obviously didn’t answer my questions,” Solito continued. “She didn’t tell me how she’s going to keep my child safe. She doesn’t tell me about the sunglasses. She didn’t tell me what the school requires. She didn’t answer any question that I had about what’s actually happening, or how my daughter can feel comfortable.”

The law Cottrell and Solito referenced is AB 1266, the Sex Equity in Education Act, which went into effect in 2014. AB 1266 “requires that pupils be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs, activities, and use facilities consistent with their gender identity, without respect to the gender listed in a pupil’s records.”

“Like all public schools, we must follow the laws,” said Ilana Israel Samuels, Director, Communications and Community Relations at SRVUSD. “This means we cannot and will not marginalize students from the facilities' access and ignore students' legal rights.”

According to the California Department of Education, legal documentation is not required for the district staff to acknowledge a student’s wish to identify as a gender different from the one at birth. The CDE website states, “If the school district has not received documentation supporting a legal name or gender change, the school should nonetheless update all unofficial school records (e.g. attendance sheets, school IDs, report cards) to reflect the student’s name and gender marker that is consistent with the student’s gender identity.”

In the San Ramon Valley district schools, a student can work with a staff member to create a gender support plan that might include identifying differently, and that student is legally allowed to use the locker room or restroom consistent with their gender identity.

However, while the district must follow the letter of the law, Samuels said, “We work to support all students and encourage them to speak with a staff member at their school if they have a concern or feel uncomfortable in any situation, so that we may address it collaboratively and directly with the student and their parents or caregivers.

“If there’s a student who says ‘I’m not comfortable changing in whatever locker room for whatever reason,’ then we’re going to work that student and their family,”Samuels said, adding that students can change in a bathroom stall in the locker room, or other arrangements can be made.

“At the end of the day, we have to allow access to a locker room, but we’re not going to make a student have to change in a locker room they’re not comfortable in.”

“This current situation is not considering how uncomfortable it makes biological teenage girls in their own locker room,” Solito said. “My child should not have to feel uncomfortable in her locker room.”

This is a textbook “rock-and-a-hard-place” situation for everyone involved. However, solutions do exist – better solutions than dozens of girls changing in bathroom stalls.

Those solutions won’t be found by giving a copy-and-paste answer to a parent’s angst-filled plea for help. Nor will they be found by, basically, saying your hands are tied by the law.

Finding a solution will take honest, respectful communication, with those involved seeking to understand the concerns of the other parties and being open to ideas that might be, well, uncomfortable.