Last month, Frank Allis Elementary School teacher Vica Steel shared an open letter with Our Lives magazine saying that the Madison Metro School District had asked school staff to no longer use the same bathrooms as students.
According to Steel, who is an out transgender woman, no other schools received this request and her cisgender peers would be able to continue using student restrooms while students were present.
According to Tim LeMonds, the district’s public information officer, the directive came after a parent contacted the district with a question about the district’s bathroom use practices.
“The district never received an official complaint from a parent. What we did receive was an inquiry from a parent of a child at that school who reported to her parents that she felt uncomfortable in a bathroom with an adult,” LeMonds says.
“So, this parent called to inquire about what our practice was, not only in that school but throughout the district, when it comes to allowing adults to use children’s bathrooms when they’re present.”
According to LeMonds, the district doesn’t have a formal policy on bathroom use, but does advise a “best practice” of staff using different bathrooms than students.
But, that suggestion leaves some discretion to schools based on their infrastructure.
“That is because we have a very aging infrastructure within our school buildings, and that is limiting the number of adult bathrooms in some of those buildings,” LeMonds says.
According to Steel, Frank Allis only has four single-occupancy, all-gender bathrooms, and since she works on the second floor of the building, her options are even more limited.
“Two of them are almost completely inaccessible in any timely fashion, and the other two would be hard for anybody on the entire second floor of our building to get to,” Steel says.
In a press release from yesterday, Madison Teachers, Inc. the Madison teachers union, shared a list of demands it has made to the district regarding equal bathroom access for LGBTQ+ staff.
Andy Waity is the President of the teachers union. He says the union is asking the district to create space for staff voices in any future policy development.
“So, in this case, LGBTQAI individuals should be able to weigh in on these discussions and be included as things happen. Because if you’re making changes [to] broader policies, sometimes those decisions impact people in ways [that are unintended],” Waity says.
Steel has worked for the district for nearly 25 years, and is approaching retirement.
Because of this, she says she spoke out not for her own sake, but for current and future LGBTQ+ educators in Madison’s schools.
“None of this is really about me, even though that’s where it started in this situation,” Steel says.
“I’ll be fine. Whatever decision comes, I’ll work it out, even if it means I have to move schools. I shouldn’t have to, but I can. The bigger issue is with our staff and our students who are coming up now feeling safe. We have transgender women in the district right now who are feeling unsafe to use the women’s bathrooms because they don’t know what’s going to happen. If the district sends mixed messages about that, then you wind up with teachers getting urinary tract infections because they’re afraid of what could happen.”
The list of demands from Madison Teachers, Inc. also calls upon the school district to add language including staff in its Guidance & Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary, and Gender-Expansive Students.