DAYTON, Ohio - Months after a national debate over how transgender students use school restrooms, a school district just outside of Dayton, Ohio, is making modifications to existing boys' bathrooms at Fairmont High School "to increase privacy for all students."
Like many districts, Kettering City Schools follows last year’s federal directive that calls for students to have access to the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. The directive is being challenged at the federal level.
Over Christmas break, the district added partitions inside boys' bathrooms to separate the sinks and stalls area — the area a transgender boy would use — from the area that contains a row of four urinals.
"The reason we made this change was to give more privacy to those students using the urinals from people in the restroom who are using the sinks and for those who are finished using the toilet," said Fairmont Principal Tyler Alexander.
School officials tried to dispel rumors, clarifying that they have not constructed special transgender bathrooms, or bathrooms that can be used by all students of either gender. District spokeswoman Kari Basson said no modifications were made to girls’ bathrooms, since they already have stalls only.
Sophpmore student NiNi Denker said Fairmont officials worked with his family this summer after he came out as a transgender boy. Denker said he was told the new partitions were "in case people were uncomfortable with me being in the bathroom." He said it "kinda of sucks" that some students feel the need for a wall between them and him, but he appreciates the district’s move.
"I used to walk all the way down to the nurse’s office to go to the bathroom, and that’s really inconvenient for some of my classes, because Fairmont’s a big school," Denker said. "So it’s nice to just use the regular bathrooms like everyone else."
Basson said Kettering administrators’ guideline is that if any student comes to them with restroom-usage issues, the administrator will develop a plan for that student on an individual basis.
"When student privacy came to the forefront of national discussion some six months ago, the Kettering Schools made the decision to be proactive and to make modifications in our boys’ restrooms at the middle and high schools to protect the privacy rights of all students," Basson said.
Denker confidently explained his switch from a lesbian female to a male identity on social media last summer. He said using the girls bathroom last school year felt wrong, adding that he sometimes got weird looks there because of his appearance.
He said that Fairmont, with about 2,300 students, has only two transgender students that he knows of, and the atmosphere for them is mixed.
"On Twitter, some people are pretty outraged around the school, but there are a lot of folks who are defending them putting up the walls, too," he said. "Most people aren’t so hateful that they feel the need to make aggressive comments at me, but they’re confused. They don’t understand it."
Basson said the district has heard from a handful of concerned parents, most of whom wanted clarification, but not from any students. She said students are expected to behave properly at school, and any student seeing inappropriate behavior regarding restrooms should report it immediately.