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Shared, all-gender washrooms the future for Burnaby schools: school district

Parkcrest Elementary was the first Burnaby school to get all universal washrooms for boys and girls to share, but it won’t be the last, according to the school district.

Not everyone is happy with all-gender washrooms installed at a Burnaby elementary school last year, but the school district says the concept is the bathroom of the future for local schools.

A $13-million seismic upgrade completed at Parkcrest Elementary School last school year did more than make the building safe against earthquakes.

During the renovations, the district did away with boys and girls bathrooms and replaced them with shared, universal facilities.

The NOW got a tour of the new bathrooms last week.

Instead of a door marked “boys” or “girls” there is now an open entrance way that leads to a space with banks of individual, locking cubicles on each side for everyone to use.

Unlike traditional stalls, the door and sides are longer, extending nearly up to the ceiling and down to the floor.

“These inclusive washrooms are very private,” school district secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill told the NOW in an emailed statement.

Each cubicle contains a toilet, a wastebasket and not much else.

Sinks and mirrors, instead of being inside the washroom, are now located in the hallway.

Concerns and questions

Bonnie Whitten, a retired Burnaby teacher with a grandchild in the district, contacted the NOW to voice her concern about the change.

“Schools are supposed to be safe and healthy, and I find it hard to believe that it will be safe and healthy for a six-year-old girl going into a washroom with a 12-year-old boy,” she said in an interview. “Not that I’m saying they’re bad, but it’s a toxic situation, and should not be happening.”

Whitten said she hadn’t seen the washroom herself but had spoken to someone who had.

The new washroom style sparked numerous comments from members of a Burnaby moms Facebook group recently as well.

The mom who put up the original post expressed the same concern as Whitten about younger children using the same washroom as older students of the opposite sex.

At Parkcrest, however, primary students (Grades 1 to 3) and intermediate students (Grade 4 to 7) have different bathrooms on different floors of the school, and kindergartners have their own facilities.

But the commenters on Facebook also brought up other concerns, some saying they would have been mortified at having to deal with their menstrual period in a shared washroom, for example.

Others didn’t see that as a problem, saying sheltering boys from period issues just perpetuates the conception that menstruation is shameful.

Among the comments were a number of unanswered questions about the new washrooms and the district’s plans other schools.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if they included parents in this decision?” one mom said.

The way of the future

According to the district, the design at Parkcrest will be replicated at all new schools and large renovations.

The new Burnaby North Secondary School will have universal washrooms, for example, but there will also be some more traditional, gendered washrooms, according to the district.

Universal washrooms were also installed at Burnaby South Secondary this year, but that school still has male and female facilities available as well.

Horswill said parents who have questions should reach out to their school principal.

“When the renovations and additions to Parkcrest were complete, there were a couple of parents who didn’t know why we would change washroom styles,” he said. “The principal gave them a tour, so they could see for themselves how students’ privacy was protected and how gender-neutral washrooms support inclusivity. While you’ll see this style of washroom in restaurants, other businesses, and schools in other districts, it’s perfectly normal for people to have questions when there is a change to how something has always been done at their child’s school.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor