As debates over transgender rights took a prominent placement in the national discourse last year, students at New Roads School grew determined to act. They wanted the Santa Monica private school to be more supportive of students regardless of gender identity, and they were adamant that the bathrooms shouldn’t highlight binary designations.
New signs for non-gender restrooms went up shortly thereafter.
“It was the culmination of several months of discussion with student council, trying to figure out the best decision for the community and for the students who would be most impacted,” Head of School Luthern Williams said. “They feel you should have the choice to define and express yourself as you choose.”
New Roads isn’t alone in its attempt to improve comfort and safety for transgender and other LGBTQ students. Indeed, schools across Santa Monica are making physical and programmatic changes to make their campuses more inclusive.
The Santa Monica-Malibu school district designated six existing bathrooms at Santa Monica High School as gender-neutral this past spring, according to spokeswoman Gail Pinsker. Samohi had one such bathroom for “quite some time” before then, she said.
Pinsker added that nurses’ offices at all SMMUSD schools have restrooms that any student can use for additional privacy, including for changing clothes before and after physical education classes.
“We have students who are transgender, but also students who have anxiety, body issues and other concerns and they are always welcome to use and change there,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to make sure every student feels safe and comfortable on our campuses and to meet the needs of our students.”
To bolster existing LGBTQ training and education for employees and students, SMMUSD will soon implement the Out for Safe Schools program. Through the multi-agency partnership, students will be able to identify allies on their campuses by badges that teachers, administrators and staff can wear. Banners about the program will be posted at school sites.
“We expect this program to be well received by families, students and our staff,” Pinsker said, “and will expand over time.”
At Crossroads School, all faculty and staff this week will participate in trainings led by Joel Baum of the Gender Spectrum, a nonprofit that supports inclusive environments for children and teenagers.
Crossroads has gender-neutral bathrooms on both of its campuses, including 14 stalls in the Santa Monica private school’s recently constructed science building. The layout, which features a common sink area, was chosen specifically “to ensure equal access to facilities for all students,” spokeswoman Sara Ring said.
LGBTQ issues are woven into academic activities at Crossroads at the elementary, middle and upper levels. The school also aims to offer individualized support to students who want to change their names, pronouns and preferences for attire and facility access.
“Crossroads offers a safe, loving and LGBTQ-affirming environment that respects the dignity and self-determined gender identity of every student,” Head of School Bob Riddle said.
Across the city, officials said the goal of new signage, training and programming is to improve safety and understanding.
Williams said New Roads’ push to help transgender students fits in with its ideal of promoting diversity, which goes beyond racial and socioeconomic distinctions. He noted the widely publicized story of Jake Hofheimer, a transgender male student, and said the school’s environment made it easier for Hofheimer to express his identity.
“We don’t really consider it something unusual,” he said. “Students are confident to be their authentic selves. When our students see that’s being supported and students are speaking out on behalf of others, that’s something that’s a source of pride.”