Public expresses opinions on High School bathroom design

Tiger Media Network

Nearly half of Monday’s USD 489 Board of Education meeting was dedicated to public comment regarding the bathroom design in the new high school. 

Designs for the new high school include some private, single-stalled bathrooms with locking doors and floor-to-ceiling walls. The sinks are in a common space outside of the stalls. Since the bathrooms are private, these bathrooms will not be gendered. However, the majority of the bathrooms in the school will still be traditional communal bathrooms. 

Even though the topic was not officially on the agenda, several community members spoke on the issue during public comment. 

(A conceptual design of the private bathrooms. Photo courtesy of USD 489)

Safety was one of the top concerns.

“Especially with the stalls that go all the way up to the top and all the way down to the bottom, it’s inevitable that there’s going to be some assaults that will happen,” resident Ben Mettlen said. 

Mettlen has a daughter in eighth grade and said the bathroom design has made him reconsider sending her to Hays High. 

“I just foresee some very terrible circumstances coming up, so I would like to let you know how disappointed I am that this is going through,” Mettlen said. 

Resident Ken Ficken had similar concerns. According to Ficken, child-on-child sex crimes are on the rise across the nation.

“Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s going on right here in Hays,” Ficken said. 

While resident Ben Houchen understands those concerns, he says the design will improve safety rather than put students at risk. 

“The issues that exist with the bathrooms now as they are, are problematic,” Houchen said.  “There is an unbelievable amount of bullying.”

Houchen has two children currently attending Hays High and said when talking to students about the issue, he said they support the private bathrooms.

“They’re excited about the possibility of safety and genuine privacy, to remove themselves from the existing problem of bullying that is happening in these schools surrounding the bathroom spaces,” Houchen said. 

Resident Reese Barrick echoed that sentiment. 

“These things are not going to cause any big travesties,” Barrick said. “They make the place safer than what they are now.”

Barrick also pushed back on the assertion that private bathrooms will lead to assaults. 

“If that’s what you think about our children, then I’m really disappointed that you think that that’s what our children are like, and that that’s what our boys are like that they would do that at school,” Barrick said. 

Resident NIkki Houchen said that at the end of the day, students should have a say in the decision. 

“​​Maybe the taxpayers need to listen more to the kids,” Houchen said. 

Board members did not comment about the bathrooms at this meeting as it was not an agenda item, but they have discussed the issue at length at several other meetings, including last April when the initial designs were released. 

“I hate that it’s gotten political,” Board Member Craig Pallister said in April . “Private is private and that is a need for our faculty and for our kids, and why are we here? To make them comfortable at school and learn.”

Board Members Curt Vajnar and Allen Park have expressed concerns about how the bathrooms will be monitored. Since the initial discussion in April, Park has tried to put the bathroom discussion on the agenda, but the motion failed. 

At Monday’s meeting, Park once again attempted to add discussion to the agenda. Board President Ken Brooks said Park could not make a motion to amend the agenda because Park had asked for the same topic to be brought up at a previous meeting, and the motion was voted down. The agenda was eventually approved, with Vajnar and Park voting against it. 

Community member Dennis Wilke pointed out this disagreement during public comment.

“Allen was simply trying to add an agenda item and I’ve been watching him get cut down time after time after time,” Wilkie said. 

Wilkie has attended two board meetings and has witnessed tension between members. He said the board has earned a reputation in the community for disrespecting one another during meetings. 

“It is okay to disagree,” Wilkie said.  “There is no way that you’re going to get six people to agree on everything, but what is not okay is coming over the top of people and not allowing people to speak.”

Wilkie emphasized that this was not directed at any specific individuals but a general observation. As elected officials, Wilkie said he hopes the board will work towards becoming more unified. 

“If we don’t reflect respect, candor, and honor for each other, it is not only a disgrace to the mission statement on that wall, but it reflects poorly on our community,” Wilkie said. 

Other items discussed at the meeting:

  • Superintendent Ron Wilson presented a construction update on Roosevelt Elementary School
  • Park was selected as the appointed delegate for the Kansas Association of School Board (KASB)  Conference, with Craig Pallister as the alternate
  • The nonresident enrollment policy and enrollment policy were read through for the first time
  • The board approved the naming of the Hays High School baseball field Leo-Harper Field in honor of former Hays High baseball coaches Frank Leo and Keith Harper

The next board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on October 9 in the Rockwell Administration Center.