Board of Education discusses gender-neutral bathrooms and middle school mascot


Tiger Media Network

Monday’s two-and-a-half-hour-long board of education meeting featured two controversial discussions: one regarding the middle school mascot and the other about gender-neutral bathrooms. 

Regarding the gender-neutral bathrooms, two members of the public addressed the board, asking them to revisit the proposed bathrooms and provide more transparency to the community. 

Board President Ken Brooks made it clear that the board did go over the bathroom plans last year and they were approved. The board has had many lengthy discussions about the topic, but Board Member Allen Park insisted it be put on the agenda again. 

Board member Curt Vajnar said the board never voted on specific plans for the new high school and the layout designs provided to the board are difficult to read. 

“I would appreciate it if we all know what’s going on and make a high-quality diagram of what we can see and where they’re at,” Vajnar said. 

Board member Ruth Ruder said she’s new to the board and has received more questions about the bathrooms than anything else in the schools. 

“Why are these such an issue?” Board member Jayme Goetz said. “I respect all of you wholeheartedly, I do, why is it this that we’re focusing on?”

As a former teacher, Goetz sees benefits to the gender-neutral bathrooms and said she does not think anything nefarious will happen in the bathrooms. 

“I don’t think these bathrooms will change who your children are,” Goetz said. “That’s your job as parents to teach your children how to be and if these bathrooms go against your morals and these bathrooms are a concern for your children, then you talk to your children about it.” 

Ruder said she’s in favor of the bathrooms, but the public needs to know what they will look like and where exactly they will be. She also said that if safety is a concern, the district could look into hiring another police officer for the building. 

During previous discussions about the bathrooms, it was mentioned that gender-neutral bathrooms were less expensive than traditional bathroom stalls. Park requested those budget details be brought forward at the next meeting. 

Park also noted that private, gender-neutral bathrooms are “out of the norm.” To his knowledge, Shawnee Mission is the only other school in Kansas with these types of bathrooms.

Superintendent Ron Wilson pushed back on Park’s notion, saying it’s out of the norm because most other districts don’t have the opportunity to build a brand new high school. 

Park said Junction City built a new high school with traditional stalls and then a family bathroom right next to it. 

Hays High Principal Shawn Henderson said he encourages everyone to talk to the teenagers themselves about how they feel about the gender-neutral bathrooms. 

“No, it’s not something that’s done in lots of schools, but for one, I’m super excited that we have this opportunity,” Henderson said. “I try to be careful with my own opinions because this is a contested issue; however, my feet every day are where the kids are.” 

Henderson explained the layout of the new high school, pointing out the location and type of each bathroom and emphasizing that students will have options.

“You do not have to use a private bathroom,” Henderson said. “If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t go to one. There is access to others.”

Currently, if students are uncomfortable in traditional stalled bathrooms, they have no other choice. 

Henderson walked through the layout design of the new high school, pointing out the location and type of each bathroom and said he is more than willing to address community concerns. 

“We don’t want this to be controversial,” Henderson said. “Both sides of this have lots of good things to say because people care about their kids.”

At the next meeting, Henderson will present a walk-through video of renderings of the new school. The board consulted legal counsel on how much of the layout of the school should be published for the public due to security concerns. 

Henderson said he can zoom into certain parts of the building to only show the bathrooms if necessary to avoid showing a more comprehensive layout of the building. 

Following the discussion revisiting bathroom plans, community member Anna Towns spoke on the mascot issue. 

“Speaking of re-revisiting, I feel like this is something that has come up time and time again,” Towns said. 

Towns discussed her disapproval of the current Indian mascot and urged the board to take more time to consider the issue. 

“Please take a chance to involve your community,” Towns said. “I’m a Hays High grad and I don’t buy things because I don’t want to advertise a racist mascot.”

Goetz said she added the mascot discussion to the agenda because, after the last board work session, she had questions about the decision to keep the middle school mascot as the Falcon. She said that since being elected to the board, she has received several emails about the issue and wanted to open a discussion on the topic. 

Some community members have suggested changing the middle school to the Indians to match the high school mascot, whereas others would like to see the Indian mascot removed entirely. 

Ruder said her husband is an American Indian and she finds it disheartening that Indians are now considered racist. 

“I’ll say it again and again and again, you can’t erase history,” Ruder said. 

Goetz brought up the Kansas Board of Education’s recommendation to phase out Indian mascots and asked the board to consider if they are willing to incur the cost to change if the recommendation turns into a mandate. 

“Well, when the capitol takes down the Indian at the top of the capitol building, then we can talk about that discussion in the future,” Ruder said. 

Vajnar said he supports unifying the middle school and high school mascots since they will be on one campus after the bond construction. The two schools will share busses and so it would make sense for everything on the campus to be branded similarly. Park also noted that most districts that just have one public middle and high school use the same mascot for both (like the Great Bend Panthers).

Board member Meagan Zampieri Lillpopp took a different approach to the issue. She said as part of her job at Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, she learns about abuse. She said one way it makes it easier for a person to harm another person is by turning them into an object. 

“That’s what mascots are,” Zampieri-Lillpopp said. “They’re a symbol. They’re not a person anymore.”

This mascot decision is delaying uniform orders. Hays Middle School Athletic Director Bruce Rupp said he is waiting on the board’s decision before ordering new uniforms. 

Even with the pending uniform order deadline, Brooks recommended the topic wait to be voted on until the next meeting. That way, community members have more time to bring forward any concerns or questions and board members have more time to think about the issue. The board voted to table the discussion until next meeting. 

Other items from the meeting include:

  • Approval of an amended Neighborhood Revitalization Plan 
  • Approval of two elementary support staff positions for the 2024-2025 school year
  • Approval of Migrant Contracted Services

The next board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Rockwell Administration building.