COQUILLE — Since the 2016 Obama-era directive to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity, the Coquille School District took steps to comply and is now standing its ground against some parents who are angry over the new accommodations.
It all started after the district spent $10,000 upgrading a gender-neutral bathroom near the locker rooms at the Coquille Junior and Senior High School. When news spread, one parent made a Facebook post that has drawn attention from other parents and concern from the local LGBTQ community.
“The school is doing the right thing and making the accommodations based on choice,” said Alan Brown, local LGBTQ advocate. “This isn’t about keeping kids from being offended. This is being done to save their lives. These youth are proven to be at higher risk of self-harm, committing suicide, and a whole host of other problems ….”
For him, the anger surrounding the issue struck a chord since he is a member of the Coquille LGBTQ community, graduated from Myrtle Point High School and had parents who graduated from Coquille High School.
“I’m completely local,” he said. “I can tell you, having known many hundreds of trans people, the progress they make to being their fully realized selves is a good thing. They come out of that process better and better members of the community and that’s what we want. We want our neighbors to be good neighbors.”
When The World reached out to the Coquille School District, Superintendent Tim Sweeney looked back at how the district started making accommodations after the 2016 protections were passed.
“We adopted the same policies public school districts did in 2016 from the Obama administration over the rights of LGBTQ students,” Sweeney said. “In August of 2018, we had an administration team gathering with the Southern Oregon Gay-Straight Alliance that presented not so much on the law but for us to understand the students' family dynamics and how to support them.”
Since then, Sweeney said the district has worked to make its students comfortable while following all the legal guidelines passed down by the justice and education department officials.
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“One of the things we’ve been talking about as an administrative team is how to reach out to students and meet them where they are so they can be successful here in Coquille,” Sweeney said. “We want to make sure we create a space where they can be who they are.”
Which is why, earlier this fall, when some students approached the district to say they weren’t comfortable, the district made the decision to work with them and their families to find accommodations.
“A problem schools face all along the South Coast are buildings that are 75 years old and not designed for a 21st century school,” Sweeney said. “I was at Crater High School and they have a hallway with gender-neutral bathrooms with individual doors on them. I don’t have any spare hallways or money to rebuild the hallways so we have to take what is existing and meet the students' needs.”
To do that, the district had Coquille Junior and Senior High School Principal Jeff Philley use $10,000 to make accommodations to bathrooms near the locker rooms. That work was completed and then on Tuesday, Dec. 10, Sweeney and Philley went around to the classrooms to talk about what was going on.
“We provided information to students on why there is also a new bathroom,” Sweeney said. “It is just an upgraded bathroom. If students are uncomfortable, they don’t have to use it. It’s just a gender neutral option. We do have some students who are very grateful and feel like we listened to them.”
As for the Facebook post made by one parent Friday morning, Sweeney said it seemed to get some people fired up and calls have been made to the district asking questions. However, according to Sweeney, after the situation is explained, “they’re okay.”
“But we’re not ever going to roll back on supporting our students,” Sweeney said. “We will not go backward. We will go forward. We will support every student in this district. I don’t care who they are or what their need is, we will figure it out. It is no different when a junior came to me and said they were being made to babysit their 4-year-old brother and wouldn’t be able to graduate. We created the daycare for that one student so she could have a place for her brother during the day so she could graduate. I will not change that approach.”