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District 65 schools begin implementing gender neutral bathrooms

Park+School%2C+828+Main+St.+Park+School%2C+along+with+Dr.+Martin+Luther+King+Jr.+Literary+and+Fine+Arts+School%2C+have+labeled+single-stall+bathrooms+as+gender+neutral.%0A
Park School, 828 Main St. Park School, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School, have labeled single-stall bathrooms as gender neutral.

Park School, 828 Main St. Park School, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School, have labeled single-stall bathrooms as gender neutral.

(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

Park School, 828 Main St. Park School, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School, have labeled single-stall bathrooms as gender neutral.

Amelia Langas, Assistant City Editor

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Some schools in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 have begun to establish transgender-friendly bathrooms in the wake of Evanston Township High School’s decision to enact a transgender locker room policy.

This academic year, gender neutral bathrooms were created in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School and Park School, district superintendent Paul Goren said.

Lauren Heckathorne, a special education teacher at Park School who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them/their pronouns, said single-stall staff bathroom signs were changed last August to read “gender neutral” instead of “men” and “women.”

Prior to implementation, Heckathorne said they felt “invalidated” by the gender labels assigned to the bathrooms.

“To see a sign that includes me in it, even if it’s somewhere as simple as a bathroom, creates a much more inclusive environment in a space where I feel seen and respected,” Heckathorne said. “It brings a sense of belonging.”

Heckathorne said they and principal Marlene Grossman initially requested the signage change at Park School, but ultimately worked together to bring the topic to the full school board.

The two’s advocacy ensured signs were changed at Park School and King Lab, which already had single-stall bathrooms.

“The request to the district was whatever we were going to do would be global for the district,” Grossman said. “That we weren’t doing something different one place, that we were doing (in) another.”

Heckathorne said Park School only serves children with multiple disabilities, so no students have verbalized a want or need for gender neutral bathrooms. Instead, they added, the bathrooms are being used by staff and visitors.

Besides looking to broaden the implementation of gender neutral bathrooms, staff from District 65 schools have also recently formed a group called the Gender and Sexuality Educators Alliance that meets monthly, said Heckathorne, who is a member of the group. The group discusses the district’s work on equity and diversity through the “lens” of the LGBTQ community, Heckathorne said.

While the addition of the gender neutral bathrooms to Park School has not drawn complaints from the community, Heckathorne said some staff members “don’t understand the big deal” about having such spaces. They added this stems from a “lack of understanding.”

“We’re meeting to look at this equity and diversity piece that the district is working on from the lens of the LGBTQ community and looking at where the supports are currently for the districts, where they aren’t (and) education that needs to be taking place,” Heckathorne said.

Staff at King Lab could not be reached for comment regarding the school’s bathroom policy.

Goren said uniform implementation procedures for gender neutral bathrooms will be presented to the board sometime in the coming months, although a timeline has not yet been developed.

“There are certain implementation aspects that we are still working through and trying to figure out given that we are K-8 and we are dealing with younger students,” District 65 board president Suni Kartha said. “There are different legal issues we should be concerned about in terms of changing records and things like that.”

She added that while the district has always had an equal opportunity policy, it used to be very general. In March, the board expanded that policy to explicitly protect transgender students, ensuring they are referred to by their preferred gender pronouns and names.

“The general (idea) is that we want to stake ourselves out as an inclusive school district in what we think is a very generally inclusive community,” Kartha said.

Email: amelialangas@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AmeliaLangas

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