New York City will require every public school to make a single-stall restroom available for student use by January 2018, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Tuesday.
The move comes as schools around the country are working to meet the needs of transgender students and to understand their obligations to them under state and federal civil rights laws.
“Single-stall student restrooms will provide schools with an additional facilities option to support the privacy needs of students, including those with medical conditions and disabilities, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming students,” the nation’s largest school district said in a press release.
Starting in May, the district will work in phases to identify existing single-stall restrooms that will be designated for student use, offering an alternative to larger, multi-use restrooms that are divided by gender.
The city’s transgender and gender non-conforming student guidelines require schools to offer all students access to multi-stall restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, but the new single-stall restroom plan will offer another option for students who want more privacy, an announcement of the initiative said.
“Single-stall restrooms will make schools safer for all students,” New York City Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm said in a statement. “No one should ever feel shame or fear discrimination and violence when using a restroom. For many disabled, transgender and gender non-conforming children and young people with medical conditions, this simple act can be a traumatizing experience. I am proud to support this initiative which removes a major barrier to learning and recognizes the dignity of these students.”
So, are single-stall facilities the answer to the debate over how to best accommodate transgender students in public schools? It depends on who you ask.
While single-stall restrooms may be a desirable alternative for some students, transgender advocacy groups say schools cannot dodge the obligation to offer all students access to multi-stall restrooms and locker rooms by requiring transgender students to use an alternative facility. Forcing transgender students to use a facility apart from their peers amounts to unlawful discrimination, these groups say. Transgender students who have been required to use single-stall restrooms at school say they are often inaccessible and more remote than the bathrooms their peers use, making it difficult to use them in the short time periods between classes. And some parts of campuses, like football stadiums, only have multi-stall bathrooms.
In other words: Advocates say it’s great to offer these more private facilities if students want to use them, but they cannot be the only option.
But others—including some conservative lawmakers who’ve pushed back against more inclusive policies for transgender students—would say single-stall restrooms offer a perfectly reasonable accommodation for schools that aren’t comfortable allowing transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identity.
Many schools’ policies on these issues are dictated by local and state anti-discrimination laws that cover gender identity. But schools that aren’t in jurisdictions with such laws are now on their own in determining their obligations to transgender students under federal civil rights laws after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance on transgender students under Title IX earlier this year.
Further reading on transgender students and school facilities:
- Appeals Court Judge Lauds Transgender Student’s ‘Brave’ Fight for Justice
- Watch: Transgender Student, Her Teacher Discuss How School Handled Transition
- Attention Turns to Courts in Battle Over Transgender-Student Rights
- Trump Administration Rescinds Transgender-Student Guidance
- Many Schools Already Accommodate Transgender Students
- Obama Admin. to Schools: No Restrictions on Transgender Restroom Access
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.