Weekly Letter 11.13.17

Dear Families:

At our PTA meeting on October 10, a parent asked about the bathrooms at BNS.  

 If you follow the news, then you know that the issue of who uses what bathroom has been voraciously debated in the past few years.  At BNS, this wasn’t something we thought much about until a parent of a transgender child brought it to our attention in 2013.  This parent wanted her child to be able to use the bathroom that the child felt matched the child’s gender identity. After the parent came to us, we did some research.  We read the regulations and pretty soon,  we went from offering this student access to an adult bathroom to rethinking the labeling of the bathrooms.  We learned more about New York state and city rules.  We learned, for example, that an adult may not stop a child when entering a bathroom because the adult assumes that the child is a boy or a girl.  (This happens when an adult innocently tells a child to go to the boys’ bathroom, assuming that the girl is a boy.)  Our work around this issue made us more sensitive and more aware of not just the needs of this child, but of the needs of all children.    

We thought about bathrooms a lot.  (Some of us had grown up in other places where bathrooms were not always divided by  gender.)  And we began to notice other settings (hospitals, museum, theaters) all of which were rethinking this issue.  

In 2015 we labeled the children’s bathrooms on the second floor “BNS Student Bathroom” and nothing happened.  In 2016 we labeled the bathrooms on the third floor the same way and had only a few responses from kids and parents.  (Keep in mind that the words “boys’ and ‘girls’ were still visible on the third floor bathrooms.)  We also clearly labeled the adult bathrooms as such on the second and third floor: “BNS Adult Bathroom.” Previously, the doors just said “TEACHER,” leading parents to express confusion about which bathrooms they should use while visiting.

We have noticed a couple of things since we made these changes.  The bathrooms are being used less as a place to play and avoid work, but for their original purpose.  We have noticed that the older children go to the bathroom they always went to as opposed to the one closer to their classroom while  the younger children don’t really notice a difference and are less aware of bathroom norms.  

As well, there have been fewer behavior incidents in the bathrooms, although there are still some.  One happened just the other day, on November 9th.  It illustrates well why we made the decision that we did and why we remain committed to doing what we know to be right for our children.  Two third grade girls came into the bathroom where two older girls were hanging out.  One of the third grade girls had short hair.  This caused one of the older girls to tease, “Oh I  forgot this is a mixed use bathroom.”  The incident is informative.  It illustrates, I think, the reality that the older boys are using the bathrooms with urinals while the girls are using the other bathroom.  It also illustrates the fact that we still have work to do.  

Some people are referring to the bathrooms  as “Gender Neutral” bathrooms.  We prefer the term “Unlabeled.”  

When we first made the switch back in 2015, the only reaction was amongst staff.    Professional development sessions reviewed New York State policy, and staff were informed that they were not to assume a child’s gender or direct a child to a specific bathroom.  

This year, a few parents have been asking about the bathrooms and for this reason, we will discuss this further at the PTA meeting on November 15th.

Here are some publications from the city and state to review before the meeting:

Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Guidelines

Guidance to School Districts for Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment For Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students

 

All for now,

 Anna

 Quote of the Week:

On October 31, as the fourth grade was leaving the playground, Moxie Radway, a student in Nneka’s class turned to Anna and asked, “If there were no gender stereotypes for male and female, would there still be transgenderness?"

Congratulations!

Join us in congratulating Mona, who has recently been honored as a Department of Education employee for a remarkable forty years. Mona works in our main office, she works with students who ride the bus, and she supports recess time for grades K through 5. Thanks, Mona!