PAC’s Potty Talk Consumes Contentious School Board Election

We are entering the one-week run-up to the Highland Park ISD Board of Trustees election, and with early voting already underway, the hot topic of the day is…bathrooms.

The one-man PAC “We the People of HPISD” sent out an email newsletter Wednesday expressing concerns over the bathroom designs for the new fifth elementary school, and the federal funding believed to be at the root of the problem.

The letter, which was written by John Guittard and circulated by Dan Newell, creator of “We the People,” gives a detailed vision of what the PAC has termed “joined-gender” bathrooms would mean for students.

“It [HPISD’s proposed design] gives them [students] no adequate protection or privacy; it’s unsafe; and it’s stupid,” the letter argues. “So a boy (or a man?) washing his hands at a sink might be just around the open corner from a girl in a stall just a few feet away.” 

Or, in the slightly saltier expression of Newell’s wife, Judy, who was in the car with him on the way to the Arboretum when we spoke: “If you’re a fourth- or fifth-grade girl and you go in and take a dump, it’s bad enough doing that in a public bathroom when you’re just around other girls, but with guys? Come on. Where’s the common sense in this?”

(“You can quote that,” Newell said when he had taken the phone back.)

In response to these concerns, HPISD Director of Communications Jon Dahlander said on the phone that the bathrooms are still in the design process. “We’ll be working with parents and teachers in determining the best layout for bathrooms,” he said. “Any school we design will ensure privacy.”

HPISD also released a statement following our discussion with them, and reiterated these key points: “The district is always sensitive to the thoughts and concerns of our parents. If parents and staff are not comfortable with the proposed plans, changes can be made.

“We will continue to consider input as we finalize interior design. Any plans for restrooms in the new school will be designed to ensure student safety and individual privacy.”

The district’s statement also addressed the specter of the man-in-girl-bathroom scenario: “The initial design for the restrooms at the new school has separate areas for boys and girls, with doors in their respective toilet areas. There will be no sightlines into individual stalls for anyone standing outside the immediate area.”

The bathroom issue might seem like an eccentricity – but it’s important for several reasons.

One is that it is couched in the unnamed fear of the “transgender” bathroom; which makes it not a question of building design, and the safety of students in the building, but of values, and the protection of children from certain ideas.

Related to this is the concern over federal funding, which has become a key point raised by anti-bond voices in the community since the $361.4 million bond’s proposal.

When pressed on why he is so against Highland Park’s acceptance of federal funding, Newell expressed concerns that the federal government would interfere with the school curriculum.

This is something that comes up in board meetings, too. At the April 12 meeting, for instance, Russell Fish accused the board of using Common Core, a good demon to raise, since it is a largely unpopular federally funded program. (HPISD does not use Common Core, nor does Texas opt into this voluntary federal program. The Texas House forbade it with the passage of H.B. 462 in 2013.)

The “transgender bathrooms” issue operates in the same way, by conflating government funding with government string-pulling. And it’s something Newell has mentioned in conversation, before the recent email.

He believes that since the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights enforces Title IX in institutions that receive federal funds from the department, it follows that the non-gendered bathroom plans in the new school are a manifestation of Title IX enforcement.

“I’m not hiring law firms to investigate it,” Newell said. “This is just a layman’s interpretation. But that’s how it seems to me.”

But while HPISD does accept federal funding, the money is solely allocated to special education programs under grant IDEA part B.


(And while HPISD complies with Title IX, bathroom design is not an element of their nondiscrimination policy.)

The money, which is used to hire aides for special needs students, and teacher aides in the classroom, has no outside influence, and “nothing to do with the curriculum whatsoever,” according to Dahlander.

(The U.S. Department of Education released a detailed guidance report on how IDEA-B funds may be used.)

“To enter that [federal funding] into the discussion would be incorrect,” Dahlander said. “It’s not a factor in what’s going into the design of the interior of the schools.”

Although HP has taken federal funding for years, and no additional federal funds were entered into the bond, the two issues of federal money and bond money have somehow gotten linked. And they are emblematic of what some see as an erosion of the Park Cities tradition of fiscal independence.

“The tradition of the Park Cities is that the moms and dads worked in the cafeterias so we didn’t have to accept federal funds,” Newell said. “It was a point of pride for a lot of people.”

Traci Schuh, who is assisting Newell, added to this: “If people knew they were going to be forced to take federal money, they would have contributed more to Mad For Plaid.”

Charity and community activism are vital to HP’s schools, but to believe that they can free HPISD from the teeth of the federal government is to fundamentally misunderstand how the funding is used. (It also ignores the issue of Texas’ inadequate state funding for public education, which is more relevant.)

Putting Our Kids First PAC's yard sign supporting Edward Herring (Seat 5) and incumbents Kelly Walker (Seat 3) and Paul Rowsey (Seat 4).
Putting Our Kids First PAC yard sign supporting Edward Herring (Seat 5) and incumbents Kelly Walker (Seat 3) and Paul Rowsey (Seat 4).

At its core, the bathroom controversy speaks to the rift within the community that has become apparent since the bond, which was passed in November at 55-45 percent.

One faction of Caruth Hills neighbors on their website Build It Great have stated: “The bond passed, and we will welcome HPISD elementary school #5 to the neighborhood. However, we want it to be as great as it can with thoughtful planning.”

This is why that group is involved in ongoing negotiations with the board as planning for the school progresses. According to member Daniel Kearns, members also meet weekly with Margot Murphy, the Dallas City Plan Commission representative working with the board on the building of the fifth school.

But other voices are still expressing resentment over the bond, and remain deeply mistrustful of the board.

We the People believes the passing of the bond was unfairly influenced by incorrect enrollment numbers projected by PASA, the demographics company the board hired. This was another issue raised at the April board meeting — by UP resident Beth Blankenship – and another reason the bond still looms over the election.

PASA’s projections put total enrollment for 2015 at 7,321 and for 2016 at 7,438. (The real number for 2015, as registered at the October 2015 board meeting, was 7,061. For 2016, the most recent number, registered last month, was 7,047). The discrepancies, for some, have been a cause to doubt future projections (2017’s total enrollment is projected at 7,563).

But the board defends the numbers. Tim Turner, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, said that there have been several years of slow growth, but these alternate with years of greater growth; so although the numbers might look wrong after slow-growth years, when averaging over a longer time period (PASA’s projections extend to year 2023) the numbers will work out.

On this point, Dahlander said, “We believe the numbers projected by the demographers are accurate. There’s nothing to suggest that they aren’t. You need to look at the longterm.”

Still, despite HPISD’s constant documentation (check their website), voices are saying there’s a lack of transparency.

We the People’s yard signs and flyers tout its candidates Bonnie Lammers, Gerry Hudnall, and Anthony Scalia, as the voices to “restore trust, transparency, and leadership,” which they believe lacking in current board membership.

Putting Our Kids First, the PAC formed by candidates Kelly Walker, Paul Rowsey, and Edward Herring, for their part, state in their position paper that “the opposition is attempting to deceive the community with inaccurate information and unsupportable innuendo.”

This election is significant because it is the first time incumbents are running opposed in five years – which also makes it complicated.

Putting Our Kids First wrote in an email newsletter Friday that when the board’s decisions are called into question, “given that we are in the middle of an election, our district administration is unable to respond with facts, as it may be perceived to be partisan.”

They’re right: We the People sees some statements from the board as biased acts of support by the establishment toward its incumbents. For example: Newell received an email today from a resident with an update flyer from HPISD. The resident (it was forwarded anonymously) saw the flyer as “spin” for the elementary school rebuild and new school project.

“Who would realize that the school board election is just one week away,” Newell wrote when he forwarded the correspondence to us.

The election Saturday might serve to bring the community to a reconciliation, but if the votes are as close as 55-45, the entrenchment may continue.

Newell himself said of the letter by Guittard that he circulated, “It was an important issue for my constituency. I, frankly, am embarrassed to write about bathroom issues. If this is all we have to write about, this is kind of too bad.”

Info on voting can be found here.

10 thoughts on “PAC’s Potty Talk Consumes Contentious School Board Election

  • May 2, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    According to the incumbent HPISD Board and Administration:

    According to the just-released HPISD 2015 Combined Annual Financial
    Report, explicitly approved by the Board Members not once, but twice
    also included in the 2016 bond prospectus (page 91)]:

    “The facility upgrades over the last four years accommodate the
    current enrollment of students and will be adequate for several more years.”

    HPISD Combined Annual Financial Report

    • May 3, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      If you’re going to quote it, please use the entire paragraph so that readers can be fully informed. It reads, “The facility upgrades over the last four years accommodate the current enrollment of students and will be adequate for several more years. However, the District is considering the purchase of land for a fifth elementary campus along with further expansion of existing campuses, to meet future enrollment needs projected for 2022/23.” It’s not quite the same things when you don’t quote the entire paragraph, is it?!

      • May 4, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        Since HPISD enrollment has been declining since October 2014 and current facilities are adequate for several more years even with the growth projections, there isn’t much need for that additional elementary – is there? Certainly not in the near term.

        • May 5, 2016 at 7:57 am

          Actually, according to the CAFR that you quoted above, per official information in the report submitted by HPISD to PEIMS, enrollment has only been down ONE YEAR, in October 2015. Here’s the data from the CAFR that you refer to (it’s on page 116) :

          2006 6,276

          2007 6,293

          2008 6,324

          2009 6,331

          2010 6,448

          2011 6,689

          2012 6,804

          2013 6,848

          2014 7,037

          2015 7,091

          For 2016, the number reported in the Board minutes on October 13, with a date of October 2, was 7,063. However, the PEIMS number to match the data above will be reported when the 2015-2016 CAFR is finalized for this school year.


      • May 4, 2016 at 1:52 pm

        According to page 8-16 of HPISDs April 2016 Traffic Management Plan for
        the 5th elementary, EXISTING capacity of Hyer, UP, and Bradfield is 770
        EACH – well in excess of the current students attending those campuses

  • May 4, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Is Blythe Koch saying folks on Wentwood are demented, that the City of Dallas can drop dead, and flat-out declaring, with no equivocation, that her HP trustees “do not have to play by the rules”? It would certainly seem so, reading her email to HPISD’s John Dahlander obtained through FOIA requests). But that’s just my opinion. Read her email and draw your own conclusions. Perhaps I simply find Marie Antoinette more tiresome than my fellow proletariats and I am ever so tired of eating her cake. (All links are posted at the end of this comment; embedding proved futile.)

    But before we educate Ms. Koch on HPISD’s alleged legal ability to trump Big D, and disabuse her of her rather abusive views — assuming such a Herculean endeavor would be worth the effort — let us turn to two far more pressing matters: 1) student bathrooms and 2) the “Parkie Kids’ Private Playground Club” across from Northpark Mall (or the “Richie Rich Special Snowflakes Club,” if you so prefer).

    First: Let’s talk about these new bathrooms that have the “Putting Our Kids First” (“POKF”) candidates so enraptured and enthralled. Lest you think the bathroom topic is a tempest in a teapot, have a look at the bathrooms first. Did you spot the big “tell” in the Park Cities People article — that the POFK candidates desperately do not want you to see the bathrooms? Of course we all did; it was glaring. After making sure to poke fun at the entirely unfunny subject, the Park Cities People most deliberately failed to provide us with a picture. So scroll down and go have a look. It’s important; and you will need to enlarge the graphic to see the bathroom floorplan. The boys’ and girls’ sides are both marked “RR.” Which side is which? Boys go to the right; the urinals are a dead giveaway! Note in particular all of the rooms that have doors and the one room (hint: it’s labeled RR) that does not. Notice also that all of the solid walls are indicated by solid black lines. The white line dividing the boys’ and girls’ sides of the bathroom is … precisely what, pray tell?

    Did it give you a fright? It is quite a sight. Boys and girls stand shoulder to shoulder as they wash their hands at four contiguous sinks (and primp and preen, worry about pimples, and brush their teeth). But here is what is truly outrageous: the entrances to the girls’ and boys’ bathroom areas have no doors. So while Betty washes her hands, she can snake her phone round the bend and sneak a quick picture of hapless Bobby aiming at the urinal. In return, when our impish boy Bobby hears poor Betty having a rough go of things in her audible-to-all stall while he combs his hair, he can get his revenge by recording her ordeal for his use at a later date.

    Go back and read Mr. Dahlander’s carefully parsed words; he all but admits this is indeed the plan. But never mind Dahlander: the POKF candidates not only admit it, they embrace it (surely you’ve seen their email, sent out by their PAC on 4/29).

    So, serious question: have the school board trustees gone stark raving mad? Would they be willing to endure such an intimate, embarrassing bathroom arrangement during breaks in their school board meetings? The latter question is rhetorical, of course. But it’s a fair one because our current trustees are more than willing to subject our children to such degradations and indignities.

    Indeed, in the candidates’ email, disseminated by their PAC (which goes by the catchy acronym “POKF”), they proudly declare that these new audible-to-all stalls, housed in doorless bathroom areas, are the “BEST PRACTICES!” in public school bathroom design. So fabulous are these uber modern bathrooms, people have been writing about and singing their praises for years! (Try Googling it! My Google is clearly on the fritz as I could find nothing exalting — nay, nothing so much as even mentioning — doorless bathrooms with hear-it-all-stalls for school boys and girls.)

    “Best practices”? No, though it is comedic. “Barbaric and bizarre” is more like it. But no need to pay me any mind. There are actually some unnamed parents whose numbers are undisclosed who are serving on an HPISD bathroom committee! And these brilliant phantom parents have already reviewed and approved these beastly bathrooms — bathrooms that lack virtually any privacy whatsoever. This is what these POKF candidates preposterously claim! Really, POKF people? Name these heroes and heroines in our community; give credit where credit is due!

    Most telling, and most offensive of all, the POKF candidates and their slippery ilk resort to ad hominem attacks on the POKFs’ own dissenting constituents. It’s a marvelously persuasive technique, employed by the most gifted intellectuals at crucial times: when a position, such as the bathroom position taken by the POKFs — and a wide and firm stance they do take, with ne’er a straddle or whiff of innuendo — is wholly insupportable and altogether indefensible. Put another way, it’s like when your wife says, “why haven’t you taken out the garbage in a week?” and you say, “that spaghetti you cooked last night was lethal. I’m going for my last walk now, before I die.” Sort of like that … simplified, of course, in the way a queen might explain a difficult concept to, say, her peculiar HVAC-view-loving subjects.

    Yes, the POKF candidates and their flock use their brush to paint any father who demands privacy for his daughter, or any mother who demands privacy for her son, as an evil transgender hater. Truly. No kidding. This is their intransigent claim: any parent who thinks these hear-all-in-the-stall doorless bathrooms are sheer lunacy are parents masquerading as privacy advocates, cleverly spinning us dizzy with riveting, pivoting pirouettes.

    And by advocating for the privacy of all children — whether cisgender, transgender, or fluidly gender-questioning — these parents are actually insidious, secret loathers of … well, according to the POKFs’ void in any logic, all genders. Who, who, WHO would have imagined our trustees would display such callous disregard for the privacy of our sensitive transgender, gender-questioning, and gender-fluid student population and the remaining students whom they serve.

    Ever feel like Winston, living the dream inside the covers of 1984, where truth and reason are suspended, and 2+2=5? And 2+2 equals 5, you stupid little prole, because the GOVERNMENT says so! It’s “best practices”!

    (And oh, what dullards do fill up the lot of our ill-informed electorate. Queen POKF Koch is irked almost beyond words that her know-nothing constituents on Wentwood would choose a constant eye-level view of HVACs from their front doors rather than agree to put the HVACs out of sight — up, up, up and away, way up there on that looming, three-story monolithic 5th school roof. But enough about Queen POKF. Any more from her, from this point forward, is too much. It is time, finally, for her to hush.)

    Second: the already-seated and POKF-hopeful trustees have submitted a formal plan to the City of Dallas for a “private recreational sports” club in the northern portion of HPISD public school #5’s acreage. What is this peculiar club, you may ask? It’s a way to ensure (so that it’s all perfectly legal, of course) that the youth who visit Northpark Mall via public transit — and by other means, of course — are forbidden entry into the luxurious sports courts and sports fields which our oh-so-rich Highland Park school district has bought and paid — oops, sorry, borrowed for. (Some voices might call this discrimination; ah, I can hear the Wizards of Westchester and the Queen sighing at my ignorance now. Others — many, I imagine — are hearing angst-ridden cries in the voices of their spouses as they peruse their new DCAD property valuations.)

    And how will all the children and teenage youth at the mall who gaze longingly across Northwest Highway at these inviting green spaces — the best sports courts and playgrounds money can buy … How will they be dealt with? How will they be kept out of our exclusive, private Parkie Kids’ Super Duper Snotty Sports club? Ask the POKFs. They’re asking for your vote. So why not ask them how they intend to enforce this rather twisted, sick exclusivity in an era in which eradicating income inequality is JOB 1? Those POKF weren’t kidding around when they put that big “O” in to stand for OUR!

    Will the POKFs be relying on the underworked, much appreciated, eager-to-serve Dallas Police Department? Take a minute to read the summary of the POKFs’ formal submission to the City of Dallas. But do savor your lunch or dinner beforehand. Because if the POKF candidates get their way, there will be precious little community harmony left to nurture, much less savor.

    Let all residents in the Highland Park Independent School District make it known by our votes this Saturday, May the 7th, that “we don’t have to play by the rules” does not reflect OUR values. It does not reflect OUR feelings and OUR commitment towards ever-increasing harmony in and with the greater Dallas community. We’re not kidding either when we say “OUR”!

    And make no mistake: the arrogant and shameless declarations issued by the queen about HPISD’s self-perceived superiority and virtual sovereignty, and its bothersome constituents most certainly do not reflect the views of Gerry Hudnall, Dr. Bonnie Lammers, and Anthony Scalia. Elect public servants who are running to serve the interests of all residents in the district — most especially, and most special to us all, the children.

    [If embedded links are inaccessible, the links are also posted below:

    1) the Queen:

    2) the stalls-audible-to-all, no-door bathrooms are shown here:

    3) the “Parkie Kids’ Private Sports” club:

    • May 6, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Thank you for posting this message. You raised some interesting points. I read the Blythe Koch e-mail you referenced, and I found it quite alarming.

    • May 6, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      It’s not a big deal. Healthy, well-adjusted elementary school aged children who are vaccinated in a timely fashion do not poop at school. They store it up for the bathroom at home. The parents complaining so loudly about the bathroom design should keep this in mind.

  • May 7, 2016 at 12:06 am

    So much pearl-clutching in our community these days. Bachendorf’s must be doing brisk business.

  • May 7, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    VOTING IS IN GYMNASIUM. Park in back by gymnasium, don’t go to front door of middle school.


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