Gender-Neutral Locker Rooms Still Opposed After Redesigns by LBUSD

By: 
Daniel Pineda

Plans for the Long Beach Unified School District to design and create gender-neutral locker rooms remain under scrutiny, as critics say revisions of the design only make things worse.

In 2020, the LBUSD unveiled plans to develop new aquatics complexes for five LBUSD high schools. The project was scheduled to begin this summer, starting with Woodrow Wilson High School.

However, the LBUSD was met with great opposition to the plan, due to the school district’s additional plan to develop gender-neutral locker rooms for the new facilities. The rise in concerns led to the LBUSD to delay the project until they could revise the designs of the locker rooms.

“We had two fairly lengthy meetings with Dr. Tiffany Brown [LBUSD’s deputy superintendent for facilities],” said Rich Foster, current president of the Aquatic Capital of America and a longtime water polo official for the Summer Olympics. “There were a bunch of coaches there, and lots of really good ideas. They totally disregarded them.”

The LBUSD had accepted constant feedback in hopes to improve the designs of the project, according to LBUSD spokeswoman Evelyn Somoza.

“Based on input we received from the Wilson High School community,” Somoza said, “we recognized an interest in expanding the engagement process to include additional opportunities for feedback.”

To put it into perspective, the original plans for the new locker rooms called for a single gender-neutral locker room, with accompanying showers and changing rooms. The new design now includes separate male and female locker rooms, and a gender-neutral locker room in the center. Both the single-sex locker rooms, facilities included, would measure at around 900 square feet, while the gender-neutral locker room, facilities included, would measure at around 1,300 square feet.

And yet, opposition to the new locker rooms was not quelled, with many saying that the revised designs would only make things more difficult and complex.

One of the people who shared their concern over the redesign of the locker rooms was Katie Rowe, a former swimmer at Wilson High, who felt that the added single-sex locker rooms would only make spacing more difficult than before.

“There are six showers in the girls’ room,” Rowe said. “It takes 10-15 minutes per shower. The math just doesn’t work. It will just force girls into the common area. And that’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Rowe added: “There’s no common changing area either [in the girls’ locker room]. It takes 15-20 minutes, and sometimes two or three people to get a swim tech suit on. The logistics don’t make sense.”

Swim coaches at Wilson High have also voiced their concerns about the new design of the LBUSD locker rooms. One of whom was Eric Berg, head coach of Wilson High’s boy’s swimming program.

Berg believes that it will cause coaches to focus more on preventing inappropriate behavior in locker rooms, than focusing on training and swim safety.

“Coaches’ offices need to be more focused on the water and athletes’ training than locker room observation,” Berg said in an email, “which is what is currently being insisted upon by this design proposed by the district architect and designers.”

The current design of the locker rooms include an office room in both the male and female locker rooms. Each office room would also include windows that look into the corresponding locker rooms and gender-neutral area.

“Coaches and other district employees will be required to monitor and observe students and student athletes while they are dressing and undressing and suiting up,” Berg said, believing this is a major problem waiting to happen.

Maggie Twinem, Wilson High’s girl’s swimming coach shared similar concerns about the locker room windows in the offices.

“I’m also a phys. ed. teacher,” Twinem said. “I would be supervising the common room, and we’re talking about putting my livelihood and job at risk.

Twinem added: “They can claim you looked at a student wrong. This opens up a huge Pandora’s box.”

The LBUSD, however, stated on their website’s frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) page that the purpose of the new locker rooms are to help provide student accommodations regardless of gender, and without fear of discrimination.

“LBUSD embraces all students and remains committed to affirming a safe, productive learning environment for everyone,” the FAQ page said. “Modern locker rooms align with the district’s equity and inclusivity values and provide equitable access to school facilities to gender-diverse students and students with disabilities who require the assistance of a caregiver of a different gender.”

Currently, the plans for WIlson High’s new aquatics center have resumed, according to Evelyn Somoza.

“We aren’t planning additional community engagement sessions on this project,” Somoza wrote in an official statement. “Planning for Wilson’s aquatics center has resumed and construction will begin in summer 2023.”

Somoza also stated that a final design for the new locker rooms will be shared with the LBUSD Board of Trustees, when completed.

You can find more information about the development of the new high school aquatics centers, as well as images of the locker room designs, at lbschools.net.

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