The San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education seeks to continue its mission to create a safe and inclusive school environment with the approval of a student-led proposal to open up one all-gender, multi-stall restroom at each of its four main high school campuses.
After a four-hour meeting Tuesday night in Danville, the SRVUSD board approved in a 4-1 vote a pilot program to convert a girl's bathroom at each campus into a multi-stall, gender-neutral bathroom starting Tuesday.
An amendment was added to the proposal moments before the final vote, limiting the pilot program to one full semester as opposed to a full year, as was originally put forward.
"These kids are not asking for the moon. They are asking for a place to pee," said Board Member Rachel Hurd, adding that the all-gender restroom is simply giving students more choices; if a student does not feel comfortable using it then they can move down the hall to the next restroom, she said.
It was a packed house with nearly 100 students, parents, faculty and concerned residents in attendance. The public comment section saw approximately 50 speakers from both sides of the issue voice their opinion -- so many that the board had to reduce speaking time from the traditional three minutes to two.
Student leadership representatives from all four high schools -- Dougherty Valley and California in San Ramon, in addition to Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley in Danville -- recommended that the board adopt the pilot program, explaining that the issue has been a hot topic among students for several years.
"It is a privilege to represent these students, and with that privilege comes a responsibility, we need to make sure that every student we represent has an equitable educational experience, free of barriers," said Ce-Lai Fong, San Ramon Valley High School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance President. "I have heard stories from students who...say they do not drink water before school so that they do not have to use the restroom because they do not feel safe doing so."
"Whenever a student feels unsafe, we are all affected," said Brady Martin, president of Monte Vista's associated student body, adding that the student government has been fielding requests for an all-gender bathroom for the past four years.
Board Member Greg Marvel, the one dissenting vote, stated his reasoning was not out of a desire to marginalize the student LGBTQ community, but out of a concern for the safety of female students and a desire for more time to research the issue further.
"This is the first time this has come to the board. I know (students) have talked about it for years but we as a board haven’t talked about it. I would like to have more discussion, I would like to have further analysis," Marvel said, adding that he fears predators will see the multi-gender restrooms as an "opportunity."
"Every kid in this district needs to feel safe... the girls who are 14, and an 18-year-old boy walks in (to the bathroom) and they don't feel safe, I do not like that," he said.
The concern for safety was one that was echoed by many parents and some students, who attended the meeting.
"We do care about transgender kids but we need to care about the other kids in school. I think the proposal will potentially create a threat to allow sexual predators to assault our girls," said Jenny Chang, a mother of a Dougherty Valley student.
"I am totally horrified and disgusted by this multi-gender restroom. This does not help us feel safe and secure. I don’t know any girls who would want to be in the same restroom as a boy," added high school student Abigail Brown. "It would be the same as putting a camera in there."
According to Toni Taylor, deputy superintendent of educational services, preliminary data she has gathered shows that only one sexual assault has occurred on SRVUSD campuses over the past five years, and it did not occur in a bathroom.
"We already have a solution, which is a single-stall (all-gender) restroom, I think we should keep using that," Chang added.
Every SRVUSD high school has designated single stall restrooms, but these are often spread out among the entire campus and can marginalize the students who feel forced to use them.
"It is not enough that just privileged children have a chance to succeed. Every single child at least needs a chance to succeed," Board Member Denise Jennison said.
"We’ve been here for four hours and I have to go to the bathroom," Board President Ken Mintz said toward the end of the meeting, after having remained silent for the majority of the discussion. "And here is where it turns for me; I do not know what some of our students have to go through when they have to go to the bathroom. I know where my bathroom is and we have students here, and maybe adults, who don’t."
"I am willing to have a pilot to see what this looks like, let us collect some meaningful data to determine if this is appropriate, if it makes sense," he added.
On the budget side of the issue, the signs for the bathrooms will be created in-house and are expected to cost approximately $3 total, for all four bathrooms district-wide, Taylor estimated.
At the beginning of the meeting, prior to what would become a passionate public hearing section, Jennison mentioned that sometimes small wins are enough to keep you going.
"I am so proud of the students who came out to talk tonight because they knew they were going to hear hurtful things when they came here," Jennison said in what was her final meeting as a board member. "These students decided that now is the time to step up and be brave."