District to survey community
Board seeks input on bathroom, locker rooms
The Boyertown Area School Board has decided to survey all community members about the district’s bathroom and locker rooms before moving forward with any modifications to the facilities.
The school board gave approval in May for KCBA to conduct a conceptual study to explore strategies to potentially modify toilet and locker rooms at the high school to increase privacy.
The school district has been sued in federal court by four students who claim their right to privacy has been violated by the district’s current policy that allows transgender students to use the same facilities. A judge has denied an injunction by the plaintiffs seeking immediate reversal of the policy, but the lawsuit is still moving through the court system.
During its school board meeting on Aug. 22, Jay Clough of KCBA Architects provided the board with an update on the process.
“This is new to me, it’s a
different kind of assignment,” said Clough. “We approach it the same way. We get information. We’re going to talk and try to get it from multiple sources.”
Clough said his group will summarize the information, share it publicly, look at options with budgets, and solicit feedback, record and present concepts.
The first step in his plan involved forming two information gathering groups – one internal comprised of students, teachers, etc., and one external group comprised of community members. Between those two groups, they would be looking for continuity.
User safety, legal implications, student developmental and emotional needs were among the items Clough listed as important to consider.
“The more private you make a facility; the counter thing is it offers less security.”
The board was not greatly in favor of the two information gathering groups.
Board member Clay Breece said focus groups are a marketing tool and should not be used to make budgetary decisions. “It’s not an opportunity to collaborate. It’s not used to gather the majority opinion – on anything.” He said such groups are homogenous by design. “If we fail to represent the majority of our community, we’re fired at election time.”
“I’m trying to gauge general interest in what’s going on. We as a firm start our projects with information gathering. We try to understand,” said Clough, adding how the groups are not meant to cut away options.
Breece pointed out that there’s a lot of things needed in a focus group to get it to work right.
“If the study is not done right, the data is moot,” said Breece. “I would like to survey all homes. There can be a separate survey for the students, an optional survey, so we can get a real accurate study. Personally, I don’t’ think we need a study to know how to make a bathroom private. I think this whole thing is a waste of time.” He also said the questions on the survey should be close-ended.
Donna Usavage agreed that the validity of outcome will depend on validity of study, adding how a variety of people need to be represented and the questions need to the asked in the right way. She asked Clough if the groups would be expected to come to a consensus. He said the purpose was just to get a good idea.
Board member Steve Elsier emphasized on student feedback and how different grade levels should be represented. He also recommended, at some point, there should be a tour of the facilities. In part, he said “We’re not the first ones to be looking at this. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. At some point, a survey would probably be the proper thing to do.”
Board member Paul Stengle brought up the fact that the district is in litigation involving the bathroom policy and whether this would have an effect.
“This is independent of the litigation process. We’re exploring this as an alternative. The board may decide to do nothing,” said District Solicitor Jeffery Sultanik.
Stengle said privacy and safety are the two important issues and pointed out how many people will likely be responding to the survey based on emotion. “I would like to see a survey on the students. I have no idea how students feel. I think they’ve been left out of the process,” he said. “I think the survey is a good idea; I would be looking at input from students and direction from administration on safety. My focus as a board member is – what are our kids going to be comfortable with.”
“Every resident should have input,” said board member Christine Neiman. As a part of her comments, she asked about any potential construction costs. Clough said modifying a facility doesn’t necessarily mean construction. It could be a matter of signage or policy.
Board members Jill Dennin and David Lewis were also in favor of conducting a survey. John Landino also expressed support, adding how he doesn’t think all of the questions can be yes or no.
“The survey drives the bus,” said Acting Superintendent David Krem. “It’s anonymous. One of the questions should be – would you take part in group discussion? If no participation, it’s back in our lap. It’s you get hundreds back – then randomly choose.” He encouraged the board members to listen to the discussions to get the lay of the land.” You’ll determine interest based on number of survey participants.”
Clough said there’s a lot of options to handle the issue in the short term — through operations, policy, construction, or a hybrid.
“A lot’s going to depend on what the students feel they need,” said Neiman.
“Let’s see what the input is, and then let it play out,” said Elsier.
Breece made a motion for the district to conduct a survey in lieu of focus groups, however the motion was rescinded with the understanding that the discussion and input given to KCBA is a procedural thing and does not need to be brought to a vote at this time.
KCBA will work closley with Krem as this process moves forward. It was not stated when the survey would be sent out.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 12.