By CRISTINA JANNEY
The plans for the new Hays High School include private bathrooms. Those plans have some local residents upset.
The design includes a large open doorway that opens into a bank of common-use sinks. Along the wall are a line of single-stall private toilets with locking doors that go from floor to ceiling.
Because each of the toilets is a private space, they can be used by both genders and adult staff members.
The private bathrooms will be available on both floors of the new two-story school. However, the traditional communal bathrooms will still account for more than two-thirds of the restrooms in school.
HHS Principal Shawn Henderson said he thinks the bathrooms will help reduce bullying. During a special school board meeting on Sept. 18, he said students have expressed support for the private bathrooms. They want to be able to have bowel movements in private, he said.
"How many people do I want to have around me when I have a bowel movement?" Henderson said. "... what equipment do you want those people around you to have?"
Henderson said he had concerns about mobile devices being used to make audio or video recordings of other students in communal bathrooms.
"Our students are vulnerable in a way that is hard for us to understand," Henderson said.
At the Sept. 18 meeting, retired Hays Middle School Principal Craig Pallister said traditional bathrooms were a problem when he worked as an administrator.
"I spent way too much time checking bathrooms and going through bathrooms trying to keep bathrooms calm and give privacy," he said.
Pallister said he talked to students—male and female— and those students said they supported the private bathrooms.
"They said to me, 'Sometimes I need my privacy whether I'm changing my shirt, having a bowel movement,'" he said.
At the middle school, Pallister said some students didn't go to the bathroom all day and it almost caused medical problems.
"Emotionally it's good for kids to have the same kind of privacy as adults," Pallister said.
Several residents and parents spoke at the school board meeting on Monday. Some supported the bathrooms, and others opposed them.
The critics of the bathrooms said they thought the bathrooms will be dangerous.
Ben Mettlen, parent, has an eighth-grade daughter who he said he had intended on sending to Hays High next year. However, in light of the bathrooms design in the new high school, he said he is reconsidering that decision.
"She has let me know about some of the things that have happened in the middle school bathrooms," Mettlen said. "There are going to be things that are not going to be able to be controlled."
He said his daughter told him students are vaping in the bathrooms and are doing things that are "very unseemly."
He said he is concerned male and female students will be intimate in the private bathroom stalls.
"It's going to be inevitable that there will be some assaults that happen," Mettlen said. "There is going to be some drug use that is going to happen. I believe there is going to be some responsibility on the people who are advocating for this and those who are voting for this."
School administrators said at the meeting the previous week that cameras would be mounted at the entrances of the bathrooms to monitor who is coming and going.
The bathrooms were discussed by the board on April 10. The school board has had updates on the progress of the high school design throughout the design work, the latest on Sept. 18. The school board never voted to accept or reject the private bathrooms, but they also never voted on any other room design.
During this discussion in April, a representative of DLR, the district architectural firm, said the private bathrooms saved space and cost less than the traditional communal bathrooms.
Another speaker at the meeting Monday said, "We want the bathrooms to be safe. ... And there have been ways to do that forever. We don't need to change those ways.
"What happens when you get 14, 15-year-old girls and boys together? ... You're going to have problems," he said.
Ben Houchen, parent, said he is also concerned with safety. His two children who are students at HHS have told him about the problems with bullying in the current communal bathrooms.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm frustrated with this because I think this is a good plan."
Houchen said he has worked with high school children and spent time with his kid and their friends and the students are happy to be getting private space to use the bathroom.
"...not because they want to do drugs, not because they want to screw some other child in the bathroom. These are high schoolers. They're not looking for a bathroom for that," Houchen said. "They are excited about the possibility of safety and genuine privacy to remove themselves from the existing problem of bullying in these schools surrounding the bathroom spaces."
Houchen acknowledged some people in the room didn't agree with him, but those in the room didn't represent all the parents who have children at Hays High.
"This is a group of people who have a right to disagree, but who are not representative of the entire community," he said.
Houchen's wife, Nikki, said she believes in the staff at the high school and their ability to keep children safe.
"My daughter would prefer to be in a private stall bathroom," she said. "This is not an issue for me."
She added, "If the kids are saying this, then the taxpayers need to listen more to the kids."
Reese Barrick, Hays city commissioner, said he supported the new bathroom design. He has two children who attend Hays schools.
"I don't know how many people here have talked to their kids, but the idea of having spaces—restrooms—where they can have privacy is a big deal," he said. "If you've had kids who have been bullied in bathrooms, this is a big deal."
Barrick said he did not think students were planning to rape girls in the bathrooms.
"If that is what you think about our children, then I'm really disappointed that you think that's what our children are," he said.
Kent Ficken, Hays resident, also opposed the bathrooms.
"It's not just about private poop, it's about taking care of our young girls. We just ask you to take the whole community into consideration."