District to sur­vey com­mu­nity

Board seeks in­put on bath­room, locker rooms

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Re­becca Blan­chard rblan­chard@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @boy­er­town­times on Twit­ter

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.

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