The April 19 Three Rivers School District Board of Directors’ meeting started earlier than usual due to a student panel that had taken place earlier that afternoon.
North Valley High School was the backdrop for the monthly board meeting, which kicked off at 4 p.m.
“Student panel is where the school board sits in basically a circle and talks to kids about their experience,” TRSD Board Superintendent Dave Valenzuela explained. “How the school is set up; how we set up systems that support them; what systems don’t support them; and what systems we could change to make their high school experience better.”
Valenzuela added the district began holding student panels in 2018. “Some of the things they talk about – there’s a maturity and commitment and engagement in their education that you just don’t see every day and I just love it.”
Moving on to the superintendent’s report, Valenzuela gave an update on the ongoing process of converting stalls in the district’s restrooms to single-occupancy rooms.
As this project has gotten underway, there has been a backlash from some members of the community who feel the restroom renovations are being carried out solely to appease transgender individuals. The board has maintained that the purpose of the project is much broader, and is intended to reduce incidents of restroom misconduct, such as bullying, vaping and vandalism.
“As everyone knows, safety is on the top of my concern list,” Valenzuela remarked.
The superintendent reported that construction is underway at six schools, soon to be joined by Southern Oregon Success Academy, where the project is still in the design stage.
“The first phase will be done just before school gets out,” said Valenzuela. “Some finishing stuff like tile work and things like that will still need to be finished but when students leave they’ll start the rest of the process and those restrooms will be finished by Aug. 15, fully ready to go by the time students get here.”
Afterward, Valenzuela said, the district will need time to test the vape and commotion sensors being installed in all the restrooms.
He recalled that the students that participated in the panel earlier got a chance to ask about the construction process and how the vape and commotion sensors work.
District personnel will have the ability to adjust the sensitivity of commotion sensors so that students won’t have to worry about setting it off simply by making a normal amount of noise.
“We can adjust that to where it’s more of a yell, a bang or something like that so we’ll be fine-tuning that.”
Valenzuela joked that he was glad no faculty members volunteered to test the vape sensors, as none of them vape.
The superintendent concluded his restroom update by reiterating to those questioning why the district is funding this while more urgent infrastructure renovations such as roof replacements are needed that COVID relief dollars are paying for the project, and the way the money could be used was very restrictive.
And for those alleging that the district did not provide public notices of the project in a timely fashion, Valenzuela recalled that he first discussed it during his superintendent’s report Jan. 19, 2022, “so well over a year ago.”
“We discussed the concept, the plans and we talked about the engineering company we were going to use,” Valenzuela said. “I just wanted to make sure that the board understood that message was out and people had the opportunity to understand that this project was taking place.”
Valenzuela concluded, “I know that this is going to vastly improve the restroom experience for the vast majority of our students and it will have a negative impact on none.”
Also covered during the superintendent’s report was school safety and security. Valenzuela said some district personnel were attending a national training center for school safety, including school resource officer Deputy Robbie Kineisnee.
In addition, the district is partnering with the technology platform Carousel to install TV screens in classrooms that can help with communication in the event of an emergency, intercom systems are being upgraded and a district-wide radio channel is evolving to foster better communication.
“We still aren’t doing enough, but we continue to evolve and grow what we’re doing around safety,” Superintendent Valenzuela asserted.
Community comments were dominated by discourse on the restroom project, with about an even split of meeting participants in favor of and against the change.
Illinois Valley resident Eliot Feenstra, who has worked as a teacher and identifies as transgender, praised the new restroom design, saying, “These allow for safety, dignity and protection against harassment for a lot of students and greater access for people with disabilities.”
They also spoke about their experience with restrooms and how a gender neutral washroom with single-occupancy restrooms would have enhanced their school experience: “All students, including those who are trans, should be treated fairly and equally including feeling safe using the restroom at school and nobody should have to live in fear of discrimination simply because of who they are.”
Constance Halea said she had heard “a sense of relief and joy” from students toward the restroom change, while longtime teacher Jack Dwyer praised the project because his sons would often avoid going to the restroom so they wouldn’t be harassed.
On the other hand, detractors of the restroom change expressed their “dismay” at the idea of a gender-neutral washroom and how it would affect the safety of girls, with Paul Simon saying, “If a pervert had wanted to design something, this would be his dream come true.”
Other critics took the opportunity to share their views on other hot button social issues, with Rick Nelson saying, “A teacher who is confused as to what pronoun to use to address a boy or girl in class has no business teaching English in Three Rivers School District,” and Judy Ahrens advising, “Get back to our fundamental values that this country grew up on.”
Board Chair Jennifer Johnstun corrected some misinformation that Ahrens spread during her remarks that abortions and contraceptives were available at district health centers. “That is incorrect,” Johnstun corrected. “Those services are not within the scope of services offered at any of the Three Rivers School District school-based health centers.”
Board Member Susan Fischer-Maki thanked all of the commenters for being “members of democracy,” though she made it clear she disagreed with those who took anti-LGBTQ+ stances: “It is important for us to articulate that a dominant culture has led historically to exclusions and to harm for members of our community and moving forward in the way that we are with this particular project and with many other projects in our district is letting individuals who are outside of the dominant culture – whether that be white, heteronormative, cisgender – we’re reminding everyone that you are welcome here and that we’re going to do our utmost to help you succeed.”
During the board’s Say Something Positive segment, Board Member Jamie Wright praised the “administrators, teachers and directors” that orchestrated the Data Academy special work session the board participated in two weeks prior. “I think they did a great job representing the important basics of the professional learning community process,” Wright asserted, adding that utilizing student success data will “grow (the district) leaps and bounds in academics with reading, math and writing.” She also recounted the fun she had as a judge for the recent Battle of the Books competition.
Johnstun seconded Wright’s positive appraisal of the Data Academy, saying, “I really appreciated the engagement and passion that I saw on the faces of everyone in the room and excitement for how we will be doing this in the future and I think that’s the key element – if you don’t have that foundational piece of engagement, not just from leadership but throughout the team, your improvement efforts aren’t going to go anywhere in the future.”
Fischer-Maki reflected on the student panel earlier in the day, where the board heard from some of the district’s classified staff. “Our classified staff are a key part of our quality improvements here and why our students see success,” said Fischer-Maki. “We saw you, we heard you, and we’re so grateful you’re a part of our community.”
Board Member Jenn Searle congratulated the schools that won Battle of the Books: Fruitdale, which took first place among elementary schools, and Fleming, which edged out all the other middle schools. “Good job to all the kids that went out and did Battle of the Books,” said Searle.