Board of Education dismisses request

Published 9:23 am Friday, February 23, 2018

LaFAYETTE — On Wednesday, a young mother asked the Chambers County Board of Education to consider placing baby changing stations in the school district’s restroom facilities. Kimberly Carter made a strong case to do this, but it’s not likely to happen any time soon due to potentially prohibitive costs and liability issues.

Carter, who’s on the staff of the Chambers County Development Authority, told the board that she has a 15-month-old daughter and that she and her family like to attend sporting events such as football, basketball, baseball and volleyball games. The way it is now, she said, mothers who have to change an infant face the predicament of going back to their parked car to do it. Having baby changing stations in the restrooms would allow them to avoid this.

Carter presented a petition with 53 signatures on it, urging the board to take such action. She added that she had been “deeply saddened at the lack of empathy and willingness to compromise” that she’d been shown on this issue.

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In responding to the request, Superintendent D. Kelli Hodge said it would not be a problem if it was about one baby changing station.

“The cost would be minimal,” she said. “We would have to have them everywhere we hold public events. That would be every campus, two stadiums, two baseball fields, Langdale Theater and the Cotton Duck [School Resource Center]. Plenty of males bring their children to the events. Bathrooms in our schools weren’t built to include baby changing stations. We have to meet (Americans With Disabilities Act) guidelines.”

Dr. Hodge said these guidelines require four feet of unobstructed space around baby changing stations. Doing this would mean plumbing and electrical modifications.

“This would cost tens of thousands of dollars per restroom, and then we could run into building code violations,” she said.

She said there was no way the restrooms at Langdale Theater and the Cotton Duck could be expanded. The Theater, she said, is the one place that’s used for more events than any other building in the system.

“It’s used year round, not just for one season.” she said.

There’s also a health issue with baby changing stations.

“I have been reading a variety of studies on this,” she said. “They are finding that these stations are either the dirtiest or second-dirtiest place in the restroom. It’s a close second to the doorknob. Because of the porous nature of most stations, it is very difficult to kill all of the germs and the bacteria. The most effective way is to use stainless steel, which can be very expensive.”

Some studies on this subject have found body fluids and illegal drugs on baby changing stations.

“Baby changing stations are a convenience, not a right,” Dr. Hodge said. “We try our best to provide conveniences when it is fiscally responsible to do so. For example, we have signed an agreement to allow online and credit card payments for school fees. We were able to do this because it cost us nothing. As superintendent, I cannot make everyone happy, but I have to look at all sides of a situation. After spending a good many hours conducting research on this topic, I can say that I know this does not further our mission, it is not the best use of our limited funds, and it is not something that I could ever bring before you in a capital plan or budget.”

The current five-year capital plan calls for new roofs on some school buildings, more energy-efficient windows and a new culinary lab.