Portland school restrooms to reflect gender neutrality

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PORTLAND — The School Department will begin installing signs in the city’s high schools and middle schools to indicate bathrooms available for transgender students.

Jeanne Crocker, assistant superintendent for school management, said about 20 signs with the word “restroom” written on them will go up throughout the district, and include depictions of what’s inside, specifically a sink, toilet and urinal. The word restroom will also be written in Braille.

Unlike existing bathroom signs in the schools, the new signs will not depict a gender restriction.

“The city feels they will be able to begin to place this signage beside restrooms, starting with high schools, then the middle schools,” Crocker said. “It’s a small first step.”

The signs were a topic for a task force formed earlier this summer that explored the needs of transgender students. The task force was a result of guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education to all school districts in the country, and not in response to an incident.

Crocker said the task force, which was made up of around 30 representatives from across the city, was very interested in issues of privacy. She said another area of interest was the use of non-school facilities, since students often use locker rooms and bathrooms at city buildings like the William B. Troubh Ice Arena and the Portland Expo.

Crocker said there is not a cost estimate yet for the signs, and there was no money allocated in the budget for them. But she said the district wanted to take a step forward.

“There will certainly be more work done regarding restrooms, for instance trying to provide more privacy,” she added.

Locker room privacy will also be examined, she said, since girls locker rooms generally tend to provide more privacy than those available for boys.

“This will be over time as we continue to review all the needs in all the schools,” Crocker said.

The guidance from DOJ said schools must treat transgender students in accordance with their gender identity, and should allow students to use the facilities of the gender with which they identify.

The task force was designed to be a “one-and-done” venture, Crocker said, largely because of timing. But there will likely be some kind of follow up, exploring areas for the district to “continue to be inclusive and welcoming.”

“For me the key is, the district is committed to this work in support of students and staff and families,” Crocker said.

The Portland school district was recognized earlier this year by EqualityMaine with the organization’s Partner for Equality Award for providing safe and inclusive learning environments for students. Students, faculty and staff have marched in the annual Pride Parade put on by EqualityMaine.

Other school districts are also exploring the needs of transgender students. The Scarborough School Board recently enacted a policy addressing the rights and needs of transgender students. Scarborough’s policy aims to create an environment where students are safe from discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.