SKOWHEGAN — Coming on the heels of the latest public appeal to provide more and accessible restrooms for LGBTQ+ students, a school board committee has taken steps to renovate a multi-stall girls restroom to create two single-stall restrooms at Skowhegan Area High School and to complete the work over February vacation.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry Morning Sentinel file photo

Emotions erupted over bathroom conversion, accessibility and safety at the Jan. 9 school board meeting, when a community member used language about signage for gender-neutral bathrooms that drew a heated response from members of a support group for LGBTQ+ students.

The push for changes in bathrooms to accommodate those who identify as LGBTQ+ began in spring 2019 when students raised concerns over posts on an Instagram account that threatened them. That led the school district to renovate bathrooms to increase privacy and safety for all students. That effort was completed in November.

The school also put up signage at a few bathrooms indicating they could be used by males and females.

As of now, those single-stall bathrooms are available for students to use in administrative offices and in the Somerset Career and Technical Center. But parents have pointed out that the administrative offices are closed after school and the bathrooms in the tech center are distant from where students may congregate for after-school activities.

On Tuesday evening, the Education Policy and Programming Committee convened at the request of School Board Chairwoman Lynda Quinn to address bathroom renovations. Currently there are 15 women’s stalls in five locations and 12 men’s stalls in four locations.

Superintendent Brent Colbry suggested at Tuesday night’s meeting that one of the women’s bathrooms, which has three stalls, be renovated. His plan is to remove the middle stall from the bathroom so that a partition can be built, separating the two remaining stalls. Doors will be added to create separate entrances to the single-stall bathrooms that will be accessible to students before, during and after school.

A storage closet will also be converted to a private restroom, making a total of three by the end of February vacation. The lobby bathroom will also be renovated, but will be done during the summer as it was part of the bond that was approved in November.

Materials that will be taken out of the women’s restroom will be relocated in one of the other women’s bathrooms, Colbry said, and the new single-stall bathrooms will receive generic restroom signs.

“They won’t say gender-neutral, but will have a symbol and be labeled as a ‘restroom,'” Colbry said on Wednesday. “The rest will be labeled boy/girl.”

According to Maine Human Rights Commission Executive Director Amy Sneirson, Maine laws state that bathroom signage for private, single-stall restrooms cannot be limited to one gender.

The Support Services Committee will manage the renovation, Colbry said, and he believes there will be no problems getting its approval. The locations of the single-stall bathrooms will allow students to access them in under a minute, depending on where in the building they are coming from.

“It was a maintenance project to start with,” Colbry said. “We’re just trying to build on that.”

Quinn said she is “relatively comfortable” saying that renovations will be completed by the end of the students’ February vacation. Colbry added that most of the maintenance can be done by the district’s own staff, with the exception of some electrical work and plumbing.

“I think it’s time to move on,” Colbry said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’ve been perceptive, folks have been supportive and the kids have been handling it well. Everything that we’ve tried to do is for the right reasons.”

Committee members expressed no opposition to the plan at the meeting, though Dixie Ring said that she hopes the school sticks to its proposed timeline.

“If we say they’re going to be done at the end of February vacation, they need to be done,” Ring said.

“This creates safe spaces for all students,” Colbry said.

MSAD 54 serves students from Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

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