Controversy over multi-gender bathrooms in Edwardsville

This drawing from BLDD Architects shows an exterior view of the future expanded Lincoln Middle School in Edwardsville.

This drawing from BLDD Architects shows an exterior view of the future expanded Lincoln Middle School in Edwardsville.

Courtesy of BLDD Architects

Editor’s note: Anyone who wants to speak on the record in favor of the new bathroom design plan is welcome to contact reporter Billy Woods via email at [email protected] for another story planned to appear in the Intelligencer.

EDWARDSVILLE — For about 40 minutes at the District 7 school board meeting on Monday, more than a dozen people approached the board and spoke in opposition to the proposed new bathroom designs at both Edwardsville High School and Lincoln Middle School.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, the opening speaker noted that some in attendance said Monday’s meeting was the most attended school board session they can remember.

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Speakers included parents who have children in District 7, former teachers, a former resource officer at EHS, and a current middle schooler at Lincoln.

“The design, it’s not ideal,” said Andrea Painter, a mother of a child in District 7 and a former Glen Carbon police sergeant. “I don’t understand what standpoint we come up with these ideas and not think of liability.

This draft drawing shows Option 1 proposed for single-use bathroom stalls as part of the restroom designs in the new Edwardsville High School commons area, which is being expanded.
Renderings of the new concourse area at Edwardsville High School. The new expansion is slated to begin construction this summer and be completed by the start of the 2025-2026 school year.

“You should be thinking of the safety of our children in these schools.”

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She added, “Having bathrooms closed off and used by both genders in a closed, enclosed space … that’s a problem. Your bathroom problem is an issue already. You’re making it worse.”

Plans for 2 schools

The new bathroom plans are part of the $6.8 million commons area expansion at EHS. It’s also in the works for Lincoln Middle School to receive a multi-gender, single-stall use bathroom design as part of facilities improvements there.

According to data collected by District 7, the new single-use stall design provides a private, safe space for individuals to use the restroom. The open concept of the new design also allows for improved monitoring of the restroom area with full visibility throughout the space.

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Safety was the key concern discussed by those who oppose the new bathrooms.

“The new design will combine both genders in the bathroom, thereby increasing the risk of exposure to a violet incident, drugs or a sexual experience to a great number of students,” Matt Breihan said. “This increased amount of students will congregate in the bathroom and make it harder to identify those responsible when an incident occurs.”

Breihan is a retired sergeant with the Edwardsville Police Department and was the EHS resource officer coordinator from 2016-22. He said his experienced training and time he spent with District 7 make him knowledgeable when it comes to school safety.

The single-use stalls would line the walls of each bathroom, with a central sink area in the middle of the room. The current plan is to have a camera monitoring the area for extra security and safety, but officials are still going through the legal logistics.

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“Quit lying and saying someone will monitor the cameras in the bathrooms. They won’t,” Breihan said. “They don’t do it now. Cameras are only good to find what happened and identify those responsible.”

With the design of the single, private stalls are partitions that go from floor to ceiling. This is a concern for Breihan and many others.

“Your plans call for floor-to-ceiling stalls,” Breihan said. “I’ve witnessed countless student overdoses and medical emergencies at the high school and this will make it extremely difficult to tell if the stall is occupied, if the occupant needs assistance and how that assistance will be rendered if the door is locked.

“The district has already failed to control the current bathroom situation. This bathroom has nothing to do with safety. It’s just another checkbox to pour certain political views on the public.”

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‘Listen to the community’

Breihan wasn’t the only speaker that spoke about the safety concerns of the floor-to-ceiling stalls.

“I can attest to you that these plans are not wise,” said Jennifer Sparks, a teacher in the district for nearly 30 years, who was moved to tears while talking to the board. “I guarantee that if you do not do the research and take this seriously, something will happen.”

Sparks mentioned a 2021 incident at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Virginia, when a 15-year-old female teenager was sexually assaulted in a girl’s bathroom by a male student in a skirt. A county policy allowed transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

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“I’m afraid something like that will happen here at the Edwardsville school district,” Sparks said. “I ask you to listen to the community members and their concerns before deciding.”

One of the last speakers to take to the podium was a sixth-grade girl at Lincoln.

“I think the bathrooms are a complete wrong thing,” she said. “The way kids act and don’t get in trouble … they get in trouble but nothing ever happens to them. They come back the next day and do the same thing.

“Knowing the fact that I could have something happen to me in the bathroom … that’s bad. The bathrooms are just a horrible idea, and this is coming from a middle school student.”

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She said it’s not fair that Lincoln Middle School is in line for the new bathroom design but Edwardsville’s other middle school, Liberty, is not.

‘Zero common sense’

Some speakers asked that school board members to do more research and also poll the public. Some of the speakers commented about the cleanliness of teenage boys and how the bathroom floors of the boys’ bathrooms are covered in urine.

“I have two teenage girls and it makes me sick to think about them having to use a bathroom with teenage boys,” Jennifer Latham said. “There’s zero common sense in this.”

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She added that she thinks this will lead to boys and girls sharing locker rooms in the future and that the whole design is part of a new political “woke” ideology.

“You’re setting kids up for safety issues,” Latham said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Latham added, “You need to throw these plans in the trash.”

Breihan asked the board to vote “no” and apply the money for revamped bathrooms to “something that increases our children’s education, something that keeps them safer and something that actually makes this district great like it used to be,” and that comment earned him a standing ovation from the crowd.

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“Remodeling this bathroom won’t fix the issues the students and staff are facing (at EHS) each day,” Breihan said.

The board will vote on the new bathroom design and the EHS commons expansion at its March 25 meeting.

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