Lawrence school district’s LGBT policies to be reflected in new high school facilities

Lawrence High School, left, and Free State High School are pictured on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.

The LGBT guidelines adopted by the Lawrence school board on Monday will affect the remodeling of Lawrence and Free State high schools, according to a school board member who helped develop the guidelines.

The renovations at the schools will be funded through the $87 million bond issue that district voters approved in May.

A facilities guideline, which was one of five in the broader LGBT guidelines the board adopted, states that students will have access to locker rooms or restrooms that conform to their gender identity, but that alternatives will be provided for students who are uncomfortable with such arrangements.

Board member Vanessa Sanburn and David Cunningham, the school district’s chief legal counsel and executive director of human resources, said the guidelines were based on already adopted district policies. Sanburn, who was part of an advisory group of teachers, administrators and board members who developed the guidelines during the past year, said the guidelines were adopted to give teachers and administrators clearer direction in what the district’s antidiscrimination policies are.

“There are different interpretations about what antidiscrimination is,” she said. “We are not going to require a trans student to go and change in another room in order for others to feel comfortable. Without that distinction, I don’t think we could claim we were not discriminating.”

However, Sanburn said no student would be forced to share locker rooms with transgender students.

“I think it’s important all our students have the right to feel comfortable,” she said. “If a student or family is uncomfortable with a student being in a locker room with a trans student, an alternative dressing room will be available.”

District facilities have evolved to reflect changing policy, Cunningham and Sanburn said. Restrooms that aren’t gender specific are available now in Lawrence and Free State high schools, Cunningham said. The coming remodel provides the opportunity for further discussion on offering more such bathrooms, what they would look like and how the district balances their addition with those who want gender-specific facilities, Cunningham said.

“Some schools have gone to individual restroom banks that have single stalls, so they are not labeled for either gender,” he said. “When you think about male restrooms, they typically have urinals and toilets. Maybe you design for just a toilet.”

Locker room designs are also evolving away from the traditional group showers and long benches in front of banks of lockers toward layouts with individual showers and private locker space, Cunningham said.

“Going forward, given students want more privacy, I don’t anticipate shower rooms with multiple shower heads,” he said.

There will be an increased cost associated with the newer locker room designs, Cunningham said, though he could not provide specifics at this point.

“Any time you put in individual showers with dividers of some sort, you’re going to have more costs,” he said.

The adopted guidelines also require teachers and administrators to consistently and equitably address bullying and harassment directed toward LGBT students, address students by names and pronouns corresponding to their gender identity, allow students to join groups and participate in activities based on their gender identity and give LGBT students and their families access to the support and assistance they need.

Student concerns about the treatment of LGBT students led to a sit-in last month at LHS. However, the guidelines adopted Monday by the district were not in response to that sit-in, as development of the guidelines had already been in progress for a year.