Controversy over transgender students: Why can’t schools designate a unisex restroom?

The Trump administration undid protections for transgender students put in place by the Obama White House.

University of Georgia education professor Peter Smagorinsky is a regular contributor to the AJC Get Schooled blog. Today, he responds to another frequent contributor, longtime Georgia educator Jim Arnold, on the controversy over transgender students and school restroom policies.

In a blog posting Friday, Arnold said, “The presidential decree prohibiting public schools from discriminating against those students that self-identify as transgender by forcing them to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological gender creates a political firestorm around what was essentially a non-issue for schools…To have the president make such a declaration on behalf of the 0.2 or 0.3 percent of the population seems sort of like killing ants with B-2 bombers. You can do it, but it’s probably not the best use of the resources at your disposal.”

By Peter Smagorinsky

Over the last few years, I have developed a healthy admiration for Jim Arnold. He was the rare public school administrator who roared back against the power when policymakers imposed too much redundant testing on his schools in Pelham City. He has written many essays on education for Get Schooled, and keeps a compelling blog, the space in which his recent essay on the transgender school restroom controversy ran, under the title “Potty Training.” I think he’s a wise educator and unique public servant. It helps that we usually agree with each other.

But we disagree on the issue of how Georgia schools should respond to the federal demand for school restroom accommodations for transgender students. I hope my response to his essay comes across as respectful disagreement rather than an ideological food fight. I do, however, think that an alternative perspective to his essay is available, based on different assumptions.

Among Jim’s rebuttal’s of the Obama administration’s recent statement on restroom equity is the issue that the transgender population is miniscule, raising the question of whether such a small percentage of kids merits the imposition of a federal policy. Jim says, “To have the president make such a declaration on behalf of the 0.2 or 0.3 percent of the population seems sort of like killing ants with B-2 bombers. You can do it, but it’s probably not the best use of the resources at your disposal.”

I checked, and Jim’s statistics seem accurate. The percentage of transgender people in the total population is quite small, and that figure comprises the whole transgender population. Most people don’t come out as transgender until they are over 30. The percentage of schoolchildren who would urinate in a bathroom not designated for their birth sex is undoubtedly much lower.

But about 1.5% of the U. S. population uses a wheelchair, and the vast majority of them are much older than students in schools. Students with “orthopedic impairments” comprise .9% of students in schools, but this category is far broader than simply those requiring a wheelchair. It is possible, then, that the number of students and teachers requiring wheelchairs is, if not the same, then not far apart. Both are well under 1% of the whole population of students in school.

Making schools wheelchair accessible, however, is required by law. Few would deny those requiring wheelchairs access to schools or toilets adjusted for their needs. But if the issue is solely the low percentage of people who require the accommodation, then we already have a clear example of a much more expensive accommodation in the issue of wheelchair accessibility for about the same number of people.

Jim also refers to transgender students as “suffering from gender confusion.” I see their frame of mind as being quite different. Rather than interpreting transgender people as confused, I find them to be exceptionally determined. I can’t imagine making the decision to go against immense public pressure to declare that your anatomy and your personal makeup are unmatched, and that you want to alter your body to transform yourself so that you feel whole. Following through on that resolution strikes me as being an act of exceptional clarity and will, not confusion.

Finally, I can’t understand why this issue is so contentious and hard to resolve. Why can’t a school take one of its restrooms and designate it as unisex? The only cost involved would be changing the sign on the door. That way parents would not need to be concerned about people masquerading as members of a non-biological sex and assaulting their children behind a restroom stall. If transgender people are feared for violating the arrangement and going into a sex-designated restroom in spite of the alternative, then perhaps they’ve been doing it all along anyhow without anyone noticing.

Jim’s perspective as a long-time school administrator leads him to examine the federal funding that Georgia would lose by defying the Obama Administration’s mandate on restroom equity. I always appreciate his attention to the daily costs of running a school building. Georgia would indeed suffer if the federal funds were denied over its refusal to comply. But does it really need to go to these lengths when seemingly simple, cost-free solutions are available that harm no one?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

27 comments
JM88
JM88

I think we can take this discussion to the next level visit my site at blunttalker.com 

1234kenneth
1234kenneth

It seems to me that your solution implies that all schools have single occupancy restrooms.  If they don't have those then it would mean that they had to construct them.  Also what is your solution for locker rooms?  I agree with the professor this is nonsense for a very small problem.  Your solution reminds me of my Atlanta Fulton Library branch where 15 years ago or so they designated a parking space for pregnant women only.  I have never seen the spaced used once.

The president should have stayed out of this argument.  

Bob Fuse
Bob Fuse

Because no school official has been designated to check students', parents' and visitors' genitalia.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

The only thing that Smaggy wrote that made any sense is that most transgenders "come out" later in life.  Which brings up an interesting point, Just how many school aged "transgenders" are we talking about in Ga.

Unless a child was born with say, both sets of genitalia, I would say the number should be zero.

By all means, instead of hiring more teachers, let's spend millions of taxpayer dollars hanging pastel printed curtains in the bathrooms so little James can call himself Jasmine and prance around in front of the mirror.

TicTacs
TicTacs

Republicans will cause this to be expensive, and then complain about the costs.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The equivalent analogy for, say, handicapped students in wheelchairs would be not to provide them with special ramps to use, but to require ALL students to use the ramps so they would not feel different.

Robert Turner
Robert Turner

Keep the low life trash out of the girls bathroom and locker room... why even give the trash a platform.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

While I agree with the professor moreso than Mr. Arnold (this time) (gender confusion? ouch!), there is a very practical problem.  If there is a single person unisex bathroom, nearly EVERY student will want to use it!  In elementary school, it would be because it makes you "special" to have a private place to go, and with older students, many would vastly prefer privacy due to a shy bladder, upset stomach, or "female needs."  How on earth could a scattering of private unisex bathrooms fit the needs of a school?  And of course the whole idea is NOT to self-identify as transgender, so it cannot be labeled for only certain students.


At the elementary level, it takes nearly 10 minutes to "bathroom" a class during breaks. Multiply that by several times a day, and several hundred kids per grade.  Would we need a FLEET of portapotties for each school?


I don't know the answer. I am just concerned about how to carry it out.

Liz Bracey
Liz Bracey

When will we start protecting children in Churches? I mean there are literally thousands of documented cases of abuse. I'd like to see any documented crime committed by a transgender person against a child in a bathroom facility. Keep in mind we have all usde the same facilities for decades.

Astropig
Astropig

Strawman nonsense.Nobody is defending any abuse by anyone,anywhere.

Ginger Marshall
Ginger Marshall

Oh Lou... You're just being silly. None of those people were transgender and you'd know it if you read the actual reports, not click-bait.

Liz Bracey
Liz Bracey

I said documented, not made up crap.

Linda Young
Linda Young

You are really just tossing out a red herring to distract folks. Problems in the church have nothing to do with this discussion.

Selena Danielle Starfire
Selena Danielle Starfire

may I point out a flaw to that figure?I was trained as a sociologist so I can tell you that the figure represents those that can be identified as well as those who have voluntarily identified  to be "counted" or helped or whatever  there are FAR MORE TRANS that are invisible and make their way undetected so take that into account. Also remember that Trans are in a faaaaaar more threatened position than LGBs they are where the LGBs were about 20 years ago the ones who are out to do "G*O*D's work"and bigots and tons of other people kill trans daily and get away with it. In fact alot of trans deaths are just quietly swept under the rug never to be heard about. This is just THE LATEST issue and won't go away until Trans can be as safe or safer than their LES and Gay sisters and brothers.

Another point 

Trans going to the bathroom they identify with will NOT put children wives and or anyone else in danger Trans are NOT sexual predators in fact more often than not they are very scared even if they come off as not and just want to be left alone to go about their lives, you know go to work,have romances, fall in love , have as much drama in their lives as the rest of the world (sorry just about everyone's life has drama in it) just be PEOPLE not the subject of debates like this

Astropig
Astropig

Compare and contrast:


Disabled students:


Must often be helped to access restrooms.


Have a recognized,defined medical condition,tended regularly by a doctor.


Have acquired the rights of equal access through common sense,"within the system" advocacy over long periods of time,in many cases state by state.


Are (generally) courteous,polite and cheerful.They honestly want to be treated like everyone else with no further ado.


Don't have self-pity issues that they drag out whenever something is not to their liking.



Transgender students:


Really want to be whatever they are not. (on any given day)



To equate students with recognized disabilities with a group of kids with deep seated psychological issues should be insulting in the extreme.Using one group's struggles for political purposes to score points with another is,while typical,no less outrageous. I'm glad that we at least have a little bit of sanity in the response to this edict from Richard Woods.Heaven help us if people like the author above should ever have access to real power.



class80olddog
class80olddog

It might backfire and all they do us fire up TRUMP's base.

superdelegate
superdelegate

@Astropig 

Plus, the timing of all this is no accident. 

The White House and the DNC are hoping to fire up their radical base for the November election, and their media partners are only too eager to help.

class80olddog
class80olddog

 Everyone is concentrating on the bathroom issue, but the Federal guidance goes WAY beyond bathrooms.  It states that a girl that "identifies" as male can play on the men's football team (or basketball or tennis or baseball) and can go into and shower and change in the same locker room.  Peter's suggestion of a separate bathroom will not fly because the transgendered want to keep their status hidden and not be "outed" as such.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Well stated article by Peter Smagorinsky, in every respect, and his thoughts needed to be stated in order to raise public consciousness and to solve a practical problem.


It is not a matter of whether transgender people are only .01%, 1%, or even 10% of our population.  It is a matter of how the rest of us perceive those who do not fall within our given norms.  Our population, as a whole, needs to raise its consciousness and humanity toward all people, and now our ongoing narrow-minded consciousness, which has wreaked havoc on our nation in the past (and present), is being directed at transgender men and women, unfortunately.


Let us truly learn the value of love and wisdom in our hearts and minds, and seek to practice both in our daily living.

superdelegate
superdelegate

@MaryElizabethSings 

This is the fifth Get Schooled article on this topic in nine days.

Meanwhile, parents (more than a mere 0.3%) continue to be disadvantaged by failing public schools in many urban and rural neighborhoods, and with only limited options.

Unless, like the Obamas, they can afford swank private schools.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Who will be giving up their restroom the girls or the boys? Our students have 2 minutes between classes which is hardly time to use the restroom let alone be relocated to a restroom in a different part of the building. Who will be monitoring them in the other hallway? I guess the trans students can use the teachers' restroom because we all know they don't need their restroom between classes. Maybe the trans kids can use the one in the front office? No, that would be singling them out for embarrassment. There is still no easy answer to this one. I say just let all kids use whichever one they want, and then I think you'll get a pretty quick consensus on what should be done.