DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit 56 board of directors voted Tuesday evening to apply for a $211,000 state grant to build private bathroom stalls at Dirigo High School to accommodate students who are still exploring the possibilities of their gender expression and/or gender identity.

Superintendent and high school Principal Pam Doyen said staff have “come across a situation where we have gender-expansive students who legally and rightfully can use the bathroom of their choice.”

She said she heard from people whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth who “were upset because students who are gender-expansive were using their bathrooms.” She said she understood their “concern and frustration” and discomfort.

She also asked the school’s Gay Straight Trans Alliance student group to help “come up with a plan of action that will make everybody comfortable here at DHS.” She said they were “very gracious” about working with her to come up with a solution.

The group agreed to continue to use the gender-neutral bathrooms, but if those were not available they would use the nurse’s station bathroom, Doyen said in an email Thursday.

The high school has two gender-neutral, single-use bathrooms and two multiuse bathrooms for boys, each with two stalls and two urinals, and two multiuse bathrooms for girls, each with four stalls.

Doyen said she realized, as did Bonnie McKenna, parent of a DHS student, who complained about the issue during public comments at the start of the meeting, that the gender-neutral bathrooms are preferred by many students “because it’s the only place you can go into a bathroom singly and kind of have your own privacy.”

She also said she had spoken with the district attorney who said that since the school is an older building “the best route would be to have all single-use bathrooms if at all possible” to allow for all students “to use the bathroom of their choice.”

Whether or not the district receives the renovation grant from the Maine Department of Education, the use of it would go to a vote for residents Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru, she said.

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