A public school district in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, has spent more than $134,000 in legal fees to obtain a permit to install only gender-neutral bathrooms in six of its new facilities, in violation of state code.
In the fall of 2017, the Upper Arlington School District successfully passed a $230 million tax to rebuild five elementary schools and Upper Arlington High School. Construction on the high school and four of the elementary schools began in 2019.
The school board and Superintendent erected five of the six new buildings with only gender-neutral bathrooms, though the Ohio Building Code mandates that any facility with “plumbing fixtures” requires separate accommodations for each sex.
The Upper Arlington Education Coalition — a concerned parents organization — has spearheaded the efforts to reinstitute single-sex bathrooms alongside the existing gender-neutral bathrooms. According to Cathy Pultz, who runs the parent coalition and has served on the Parent-Teacher Organization for 15 years, the school district never informed parents about the gender-neutral bathroom facilities until the fall of 2020.
The school district denies that it hid the decision making process from the public.
Pultz told The Daily Wire that she spoke with the Superintendent, who said the board voted in favor of an architectural design that had gender-neutral bathrooms. Public permit records of the proposed building design submitted to the state show multiple bathrooms designated as “men’s” and “women’s” facilities.
“I was shocked because that was not in the plans,” Pultz told The Daily Wire. “I called the Superintendent, Paul Imhoff, to find out when the school board voted on this style of bathroom. He told me that the Board voted on the plans as a whole, not specifically the bathrooms.”
In June 2020, the Upper Arlington School District went to the Board of Building Appeals to apply for a variance that would approve only gender-neutral bathrooms at Windermere Elementary School. The board denied the district a variance to install the restrooms, citing existing building codes.
Ohio’s building code also requires that public facilities provide signs that “designate the sex” of bathroom users. “Signs shall be readily visible and located near the entrance to each toilet facility,” the code reads.
The school district appealed to a local court and a judge ruled that the school district could move forward with its plan to install gender-neutral restrooms in all six buildings. According to the school’s Treasurer, as of February 4, 2021, the district has paid $134,925 in legal fees to procure permits for the gender-neutral restrooms.
Following the judge’s ruling, a family who remains anonymous in court filings opted to sue the school district and the city for allegedly flouting state building codes.
Parents in the Columbus suburb created a petition calling on the district to comply with the original school layout and state code. The petition has garnered more than 700 signatures.
“We the undersigned demand that the Upper Arlington School Board re-label the bathrooms, in all new and renovated buildings, according to the Architectural plans approved by the [Upper Arlington] School Board and the Ohio Building Code,” the petition reads. “We support bathroom choices where ALL children feel safe and comfortable. We demand that all the bathrooms close to academic classrooms be labeled: Gender Neutral Bathrooms, Boy’s Bathrooms, & Girl’s Bathrooms.”
The school district claims that buildings will still have separate restrooms for boys and girls. Karen Truett, a communications director for the district, told This Week that the proportion of gender-neutral bathrooms to single-sex bathrooms “varies by building, but all the schools will have separate boys and girls restrooms available.”
Pultz said that the school’s claims that boy’s and girl’s bathrooms still exist are “misleading and disingenuous” because a single-sex restroom may not be accessible to students in the allotted time between classes.
“It’s misleading and disingenuous when they say there are boys and girls bathrooms,” Pultz said. “If you’re at Greensview [Elementary School], it would take 20 minutes for a young child to go from [one] side of the building to the boys and girls restrooms. If you’re on the third floor of the high school, you can’t go by the gym where the boys and girls restrooms are in five minutes between classes.”
Colleen Wright, a communications coordinator for the school district told The Daily Wire that the primary reason the School Board chose to create gender-neutral restrooms was to “supervise students and minimize the risk of teasing and even bullying.”
“When we have students who are questioning their assigned gender or sex or who identify differently than their assigned gender or sex, they are able to use the restroom without added stress for themselves or their classmates,” Wright said.
Superintendent Paul Inhoff did not respond to requests for comment.