Kettering schools are adding partitions within boys bathrooms that separate the sinks and stalls area from the area with a row of urinals. District officials say the move is to increase student privacy, and it comes on the heels of 2016’s national debate over transgender bathroom usage. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Transgender debate spurs bathroom changes in Kettering schools

District adds partition to boys bathrooms to ‘increase privacy for all students.’

Months after a national debate over how transgender students use school restrooms, Kettering City Schools is making modifications to existing boys bathrooms at Fairmont High School “to increase privacy for all students.”

Like many districts, Kettering follows last year’s federal directive — currently facing court challenge — that calls for students to have access to the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

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Over Christmas break, the district added partitions inside boys bathrooms to separate the sinks and stalls area — the area a transgender boy would use — from the area that contains a row of four urinals.

“The reason we made this change was to give more privacy to those students using the urinals from people in the restroom who are using the sinks and for those who are finished using the toilet,” said Fairmont Principal Tyler Alexander.

RELATED: few clear answers on transgender school policies

School officials tried to dispel rumors, clarifying that they have not constructed special transgender bathrooms, or bathrooms that can be used by all students of either gender. District spokeswoman Kari Basson said no modifications were made to girls’ bathrooms, since they already have stalls only.

NiNi Denker said Fairmont officials worked with his family this summer after he came out as a transgender boy. Denker said he was told the new partitions were “in case people were uncomfortable with me being in the bathroom.” He said it “kinda sucks” that some students feel the need for a wall between them and him, but he appreciates the district’s move.

“I used to walk all the way down to the nurse’s office to go to the bathroom, and that’s really inconvenient for some of my classes, because Fairmont’s a big school,” Denker said. “So it’s nice to just use the regular bathrooms like everyone else.”

RELATED: Gender, bathroom policy starts debate in Troy schools

A long exchange on a Kettering-related Facebook page last spring showed a wide variety of opinions on the issue. Some showed acceptance of transgender students’ needs, others expressed confusion or public rejection, and some wanted to make sure their own children’s needs were considered. Fairmont parent Heather Vittorio expressed her concerns Thursday.

“I’m for however you want to live your life and I spread that message daily with love, but at the same time I can see how this situation could very much be out of control,” Vittorio said. “I just do not want boys in my daughter’s restroom. That’s not OK with me.”

Basson said Kettering administrators’ guideline is that if any student at all comes to them with restroom usage issues, the administrator will develop a plan for that student on an individual basis.

“When student privacy came to the forefront of national discussion some six months ago, the Kettering Schools made the decision to be proactive and to make modifications in our boys’ restrooms at the middle and high schools to protect the privacy rights of all students,” Basson said.

Denker, a sophomore, confidently explained his switch from a lesbian female to a male identity on social media last summer. He said using the girls bathroom last school year felt wrong, adding that he sometimes got weird looks there because of his appearance.

Fairmont, with about 2,300 students, has only two transgender students that Denker knows of, and he said the atmosphere for them is mixed.

“On Twitter some people are pretty outraged around the school, but there are a lot of folks who are defending them putting up the walls, too,” he said. “Most people aren’t so hateful that they feel the need to make aggressive comments at me, but they’re confused. They don’t understand it.”

Basson said the district has heard from a handful of concerned parents, most of whom wanted clarification, but not from any students. She said students are expected to behave properly at school, and any student seeing inappropriate behavior regarding restrooms should report it immediately.

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