Unsafe Swimming.  Potential Problems That Can Be Avoided

Unsafe Swimming. Potential Problems That Can Be Avoided

I grew up swimming and playing water polo in Long Beach, California where boys and men went into one area to shower and use the restroom – and the girls would go in a separate area,” recalled Steven Munatones. “But that was in the 1970’s. It seems the area – and society – have changed and as a father of teenage girls, I am very worried. I realize that many new swimming facilities in Europe and America have common locker areas with small changing rooms, but in large urban areas with little or no supervision, the recipe for problems obviously arises.”

Katie Rowe, a swimming coach at Long Beach Wilson High School, summarizes the current situation, “Long Beach Unified School District is in process of building new aquatics centers for our local high schools, beginning with Wilson High School next summer and including Long Beach Poly, Lakewood, Jordan and Millikan High Schools that will use the identical plan. Cabrillo High School already has a new pool with single gender locker rooms.

The current plan to begin construction in June of 2022 shows co-ed gender-neutral locker rooms, showers, and toilets.”

Note: Gender-neutral (also known as unisex, gender-inclusive, and mixed-sex or all-gender) facilities (i.e., locker rooms, showers, toilets) refers to public facilities that are not separated by gender or sex.

Rowe and Munatones agree that this plan violates norms of safety for students (both male and female) and subjects the school teachers, coaches, administrators and the District itself to legal liability. Rowe explains, “No matter what is built at the schools, it will have single changing, toilet and shower stalls. This is a construction requirement statewide.”

Long Beach Wilson High School assistant principal Guillermo Jimenez recently sent out an email to the school’s parents, informing them of a virtual meeting in order to learn more about the inclusive locker room that will be built. His email reads, “Parents and guardians are invited to join a virtual community meeting on November 30 at 6 p.m. to learn more about the new aquatic center and inclusive locker room coming to Wilson High School fall 2023. Construction will begin next summer.

The Long Beach Unified School District’s inclusive facilities are spaces that serve students with disabilities, students of all gender identities and expressions, and students who desire privacy for any number of reasons. Wilson’s new aquatic center will feature an inclusive, all-gender locker room.

LBUSD’s Facilities staff will share information on the new aquatic center, including details on the locker room’s safety and privacy features. To join the meeting on November 30, please visit the District’s YouTube channel here.

Parents will have an opportunity to ask questions during the meeting. If you’d like to submit questions in advance of the meeting, please email [email protected].

Rowe further describes the situation, “There is no option – at least at Wilson, and possibly the other schools depending on pool location – to change, shower, or use the toilet in a single gender locker room for Physical Education students in the swim unit, water polo and swim athletes. The planned aquatic facility is across the street from campus at Wilson by the tennis courts. During school hours and competition, the gates are LOCKED.

Students are not permitted to leave the pool area to cross the street to use the ‘old’ locker rooms because they are in class/school activity and must be under supervision of the teacher assigned.

This is a safety issue – and the reason why all school gates are locked during school hours everywhere in the Long Beach Unified School District. So, while there will be single gender locker rooms on campus, they will not be available for anyone using the pool.

While some individuals suggest deck changing, that is not an option. Deck changing is banned by both high school and USA Swimming and results in a disqualification from competition.

Why is a co-ed locker room a problem if there are stalls? It is not because people are anti-transgender. NO. The problem is co-ed locker rooms ELIMINATE students from being able to change in the open. This is probably not as much of an issue during Physical Education classes. However, for our sports teams this is a HUGE PROBLEM.

The planned locker room has 58 changing stalls.

A swimming dual meet, invitational, or League championship event or a water polo tournament has up to 250 athletes that need to get from class to the pool and changed and warm up for a meet or games starting shortly after school. Read that again: 250 athletes.

The racing tech suits that our athletes wear take approximately 15-20 minutes to put on – especially the girls’ suits even with someone assisting you. The tech suits are very expensive, and can be torn easily by a nail or finger poke in the wrong spot.  So if there are approximately 80-100 girls needing 15-20 minutes to put on a tech suit and we have 58 stalls, that math doesn’t work.

In a single-gender locker room, many girls are perfectly comfortable changing in the open locker room. This obviously can’t happen in a co-ed locker room. Where do we find the time to get all of these athletes changed? There is no time. This plan has REMOVED the ability of athletes to choose where to change.

There are also only 9 toilet stalls planned for these 250 athletes and all the parents and spectators (which could be another 200-300 people at a large competition) and no urinals. If you have ever been a female at a concert or old sports facility or waited for one to make it through the bathroom line, it is obvious this plan is grossly insufficient. Also, tampon dispensers will be in the open, a potential source of embarrassment for young girls needing supplies.

Thirdly, there is potential for teacher liability. The planned locker room has the coaches’ office with windows that look into the locker room. There is also a window from the pool deck through the coaches’ office into the locker room. The shower stalls – 10 of them – are on either side of the coaches’ office.

Students must leave the shower stall to go to a changing stall. Since no one showers with a swimsuit on, that means students will be walking with a towel wrapped around them to a changing stall. If that towel falls – either inadvertently or is pulled off (remember: these are teenagers), there is a coach or teacher looking in on this. The potential for a swimmer or parent to claim that a coach or teacher was ‘checking out’ their naked child is huge. It is a giant liability issue for both teachers and the district. This is a primary reason teachers and coaches are AGAINST this co-ed plan. They don’t want the risk of harming their career.

Ten showers is not enough for 54 Physical Education students to shower and get to their next class on time. It is definitely not enough for the 125 (half) of the athletes that might need to change after practice or a game to get to another event like an orchestra recital or study session.

Additionally, this locker room – shower – toilet facility will be the ONLY lockers, showers and toilets at the aquatic facility. This means that all visitors, parents, and spectators will go into them in order to go to the bathroom. This means that any spectator who does not have kids, who likes to check out kids, or potentially get a kid in a quiet locker room into a stall will be unchecked. Could this problem happen in a single gender facility? Yes. But the chances are that someone will see an adult man walking into the girls’ locker room and immediately stop the intruder.

But this potential problem will be common in a co-ed facility. And it could easily happen if the pools are open for community use during the summer when parents drop their kids off for swim lessons while creeps come in to take a look.

The stall doors are designed with a one-inch gap at the bottom, and are ten feet tall with no gap down the door sides. There is NO WAY for anyone to supervise these stalls. This means a kid could go in to use drugs. Or to have sex. Or to attack and beat someone up. Or to cut themselves. Or to commit suicide. Or to pass out. But no one would know – and there is no way to promptly get to them.

No teacher is going to kneel down and put their cheek on a filthy, wet locker room floor to be sure there is no one slumped on the ground, or two sets of feet are in the stall. In a co-ed locker room, there is potential of an 18-year-old man in the locker room with a 13-year-old girl. Protection of students while at school is paramount. This is a safety issue. Doors like this are not required in single-gender locker rooms.

No benches are included in the plan. The District does not want students ‘hanging out’ in the locker rooms – which implies they know there could be issues.

The design does not include any common area benches. Students nowadays have giant bookbags, gear bags, musical instruments, art portfolios, etc. Pool locker room floors are WET. There is no place to set their items down. There is no place for a student to clear out a changing stall and put their shoes on out on a common bench, so they will occupy a stall even longer. There are often have athletes with ‘issues’ such as nerves, illness, cramps, high-school drama, feeling faint, you name it. It is common for them to go into the locker room and sit or lie on a bench for a bit. But this is removed in the co-ed facility.

Supervision is another problem; this is not like the 1970’s, 1980’s, or whenever. This is now. There is not a magical pack of teachers, coaches, lifeguards, pool attendants just hanging out, waiting to jump into action. One teacher must supervise 54 Physical Education swim students in the locker room. This means they are not supervising the pool. A coach running a practice with 70+ athletes cannot stop practice and clear the pool because a girl and a boy need to go to the restroom to ensure nothing happens and they are all safe. A few years ago, a student drowned at Jordan High School. The district does not have the staffing to do this nor the funding to add a locker room attendant and lifeguard in addition to a teacher/coach.

It is unlikely there will be any Facility Rental Income. USA Swimming and USA Water Polo have faced sexual abuse scandals – like USA Gymnastics – and the governing bodies now follow a protocol called Safe Sport. There are prohibitions against coaches and parents in locker facilities. That is unavoidable in this current plan with one co-ed facility and no spectator restrooms. Adding these is not an option due to space considerations at the different schools.

In short, having single sex locker rooms is NOT an anti-transgender issue, or anything else. Current policy says students can use whatever facility they identify with. Which means trans students will go in whichever single sex facility they choose, go in a stall and change, and no one is singled out or uncomfortable.

Single-gender facilities allow everyone to promptly get ready for class/practice/competition, and promptly clean up afterwards. It also reduces teacher, coach and administration liability. The cost of changing the design is minimal while this is in the planning stage.

In summary, there will be stalls no matter what is built, either co-ed or single gender. Students at the pool cannot use the other campus facilities.

Students, athletes, teachers and coaches are against this plan. Current athletes are extremely concerned about this and absolutely do not want it. There will be students who refuse to learn to swim. Students will quit swimming and water polo. We will lose students to private and parochial schools and Los Alamitos Unified School District, which could affect property values. We may lose the ability to host competitions against schools outside of our district. This will set a precedent statewide, and is unnecessary, a safety issue, and a liability issue.

What can you do?

1. Speak at the School Board meetings that are held on the first and third Wednesdays at 5 p.m. in the Community Room of the District Admin Building, 1515 Hughes Way, Long Beach CA. Next meetings are December 1st and 5th. Or file a written request 10 days in advance to have the topic added to the agenda.

2. Contact Superintendent Jill Baker at [email protected] and let her know this is unsafe for our students, teachers and the District with a cc to [email protected].

3. Call +1-562-997-8242 during business hours. You do not have to have be a swimmer, or the parent of a swimmer to contact the district. This co-ed locker plan will eventually spread to all school facilities statewide if left unchecked.

Sample Letter:

Dear Superintendent Baker and the LBUSD School Board,

I AM STRONGLY OPPOSED TO CO-ED LOCKER ROOMS FOR OUR NEW AQUATICS FACILITIES.

These facilities are unsafe for our students, and present extreme legal liability for teachers and staff, as well as the District.

I encourage you to revisit your design for the new LBUSD aquatics facilities and return to single sex facilities in equity with the Cabrillo High School pool facility.

Thank you,

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Photo: College students in the universal non-gendered locker rooms in the UC Berkeley Recreation Center in California