What came to light as “emotionally exhausting” for students at the 43-minute meeting of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education on March 27?

Taking exams? Watching an intense basketball game? Getting from one classroom to the next? Finding a prom date?

Nope. It’s as simple as going to the restroom, and that’s why the school board OK’d a pilot project for a bathroom remodel at Rio Rancho High School.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Baker told the board and the principals at RRHS and Cleveland High School of Rio Rancho Public Schools the objectives of this project:

  • Decrease vandalism, smoking, vaping (“Much more popular” than smoking, Baker said), fighting, bullying, setting fires, harassment and the fear of going into a restroom;
  • Have an inclusive, safe facility for all students;
  • Increase the ease of security, supervision and accessibility; and
  • Maintain privacy.

“We want students to be able to feel comfortable when they use the restroom,” Baker said.

A story in the March 16 Observer detailed district Safety & Security Executive Director Sal Maniaci’s concerns about the problems occurring in the bathrooms at the middle and high schools in the district, telling the Observer then that ““99.9% of the bad stuff happens in the restrooms. Although he said it was an exaggeration, one gets the idea it’s probably close to the truth.

Baker said a report will soon be available for the board, showing them the thousands of dollars spent annually on repairing damage, removing graffiti, etc., in  the restrooms, some of which occurred after a TikTok video encouraging malicious acts in restrooms, which happened nationwide.

HB 207 identifies gender and gender identity and authorizes those students to use restroom facilities of their choice, and this project complies with that bill’s language.

The new layout features stalls from floor to ceiling for each commode, sinks in the middle of the restroom, with cameras positioned to record what’s happening once students exit the stalls; and a vape detector.

Baker said there was discussion on whether or not gender-neutral signage should be used, before deciding “boys” and “girls” signage on opposite sides would be recommended.

The board voted 3-2 to go ahead with the project; it was one of the rare times when there was a split vote, with both men (Gary Tripp and Jeffery Morgan) voting no, while the three women (Amanda Galbraith, Noreen Scott and Jessica Tyler) voting in the affirmative. Tripp said he was more concerned with overall students’ safety, such as the installation of metal detectors to keep weapons from coming into district buildings.

And, Tripp noted, “We can’t do everything.”

The project’s cost will be $350,000 to $400,000, although Baker said it’s possible the state will contribute $100,000 in funds.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland said the eventual results of the new facility, once it’s in use, “will give us some real data,” allowing the board to opt for more or keep just one such restroom.

The board also:

  • Voted to submit the name of Jonathan Shin, the RRHS Class of 2023 valedictorian, for a $1,000 scholarship from the New Mexico School Boards Association. Tripp was impressed by Shin’s score of 1480 on the SAT;
  • In a first reading, approved some minor changes in policies 604 (Acceptance of Grant Awards) and 605 (Revenues from Investments); and
  • Heard Cleveland refer to vandalism at Colinas del Norte Elementary led to “a major cleanup effort.”

The district made the following statement about the incident: “On the evening of March 20, two individuals broke into Colinas del Norte Elementary School and vandalized a portion of the gym, cafeteria and kitchen using a fire extinguisher. The assailants also broke a window. Rio Rancho Public Schools takes these kinds of situations very seriously, and we are actively working with the Rio Rancho Police Department to review security footage and identify the suspects. Once identified, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Actions like these waste the time and resources of both our Safety and Security Department and the police, and put undue costs of repair onto the district.”

The next board meeting is at 5:30 p.m. April 24, when a legislative update is expected to be heard.