Gardiner Area High School sophomore Jay Dostie, left, speaks to the Maine School Administrative District 11 school board in January about how the transgender and gender-expansive student policy has positively affected their time in the Gardiner schools. The district has seen a recent uptick in complaints and inquiries about the rules approved in 2020, officials said. Screenshot via Zoom

GARDINER — Construction at Gardiner Area Middle School to provide bathrooms for transgender students is on schedule to start later this school year as parents, students and school board members continue to debate the district’s policy on accommodating transgender students.

On Wednesday, the district hosted a special policy committee meeting, where around two dozen people spoke, some continuing to air concerns parents have brought to the Maine School Administrative District 11 school board since January.  Their main concern is with transgender students using the bathroom for the gender they identify with.

In January, Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said the district will spend more than $70,000 to install four floor-to-ceiling walls in bathrooms in the district’s middle school.

Even so, some community members called for a change in policy.

The district’s lawyer, Melissa Hewey, explained that the district’s policy — adapted from Maine School Management Association — is in place for reasons based around the Maine Human Rights Law, and that any changes or rescinding of the policy might result in a lawsuit against the district.

Most school districts across the state have adopted some version of the policy, as the Maine Human Rights Act protects transgender students. Protections are also spelled out in a state Supreme Court case from 2014 that found transgender students can use the bathroom that matches the gender with which they identify.


“If you are in a lawsuit, you are in one for a long time,” Hewey said. “That means administration, students, are involved with litigation, and you are in the newspaper all the time. You are focusing on the lawsuit instead of teaching and learning and it’s probably something you don’t want to do.”

Based on the conversation with the school attorney and with the input from the community and board members, Hopkins and Anthony Veit, chairman of the board’s policy committee, pledged to review the policy with the attorney and to consider recommendations, if any, at a future policy committee meeting.

Community members continue to be divided on the issue. Most parents who spoke against the policy were worried that students could use any bathroom they please.

Hopkins said the policy will be used on a case-by-case basis because every student’s situation is different, and students may not have come out to their parents. 

The Gardiner-area district’s policy is clear that a transgender student requires more than a casual declaration, which some community members were worried about, but does not require a medical diagnosis.

Hopkins and the board decided to allocate money for the bathroom modifications to accommodate students who feel uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with transgender students. The project was originally estimated to cost around $46,000, but costs for electrical work and ensuring the bathrooms are up to code brought the cost up to just under $70,000.


While the construction was initially expected to take place during April vacation, the completion date is now closer to the summer break.

One community member mentioned a petition circulating around the middle school that allegedly 150 girls in the school signed against having a transgender student use the girls bathroom. Gardiner Area Middle School Principal Sara Sims said around 17 girls came to her with concerns about the bathroom.

Matthew Lillibridge, a board member representing West Gardiner, said there’s no perfect solution, but the district is doing the best it can.

“We are accommodating the people who identify as a different gender with this policy so they can be comfortable to use whatever bathroom they identify with,” Lillibridge said. “And then, we set up the accommodations for all the people, maybe the 150 who signed the petition, that says, ‘I’m not comfortable going in the bathroom,’ with that type of person, but there are seven or eight other bathrooms in the school to go to.”

Sarah Mansir, a freshman at Gardiner Area High School, who first spoke up in January in favor of the policy, was one of two students who spoke Wednesday.

“If I used the bathroom at the same time as a transgender student, I would not feel threatened. I probably wouldn’t even take notice,” Mansir said. “These students are people. I know they are not out to get me in the school bathroom. All they want is to comfortably use the school bathroom they closely identify with. If something were to happen, I would tell a teacher or an officer and name the student specifically.”

MSAD 11 encompasses Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.

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