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SD46 clarifies universal washroom initiative at Chatelech amid local concerns

Amidst debates, SD46 clarifies universal washroom initiative at Chatelech Secondary School aims for inclusivity, respecting student privacy and safety.

School District 46 is clarifying that when universal washrooms are added to Chatelech Secondary School, the district will not be removing gender-specific washrooms.

As School District 46 (SD46) advances its mandate of adding a universal washroom to its schools, it has received blowback from the community, citing concerns over student safety. 

As universal washrooms are becoming more common throughout the province, SD46 released an online Q&A detailing the initiative.  

The Q&A states that universal washrooms promote inclusivity, accessibility and comfort, supporting the district’s commitment to equity, dignity, student privacy and safety and align with the BC Human Rights Code (Bill 27) and the board’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy.

Universal washrooms are nothing new to the Sunshine Coast. Several were installed in Gibsons Elementary in 2015, the Early Years Centre in 2020, West Sechelt Elementary in 2021 and Elphinstone Secondary in 2023, which the Q&A says have been well received.

Concerns came to a head at the May 8 school board meeting, where community members voiced their questions about the coming addition to Chatelech. 

One member of the public asked, “Have the statistics regarding the safety and privacy of women and girls been considered in the decision to eliminate female and male bathrooms and change rooms?” 

Board chair Amanda Amaral reiterated that the plan is to add all-user space and that gender-specific washrooms are not being eliminated, adding that recent statistics show 30 per cent of SD46 students do not feel safe in the washroom.

Another member of the public asked why the school needs four types of bathrooms if there are only two sexes, Amaral explained to him there is a gender spectrum as well as people who are non-binary and everyone needs to feel safe.

Chair calls recess due to public disruption

Despite a trustee making a point of order to bring the meeting back on track, members of the public repeatedly interrupted the board meeting after the question period ended. 

As the audience members’ interruptions grew more heated, Amaral called for a recess. 

In a follow-up interview with Coast Reporter, Amaral said that was the first time she has had to call a meeting to recess or that she's seen a trustee call a point of order because of attendees.

She said she doesn’t remember it being this controversial or concerning to the community when universal washrooms were added to previous schools on the Sunshine Coast, such as Elphinstone Secondary School last summer.

Amaral highlighted that adding universal washrooms is part of a larger directive about inclusivity. She clarified that it is not a school-based decision to have an inclusive washroom facility, comparing it to having wheelchair ramps.

Amaral said that great things have come from listening to the public and that each time the district adds a universal washroom, they have an opportunity to improve the design and take student feedback into consideration. She said that based on student feedback, the new washroom will have two accessible stalls for those with mobility restrictions, which will also have sinks in them for students who use menstrual cups or discs.

Speaking to the meeting, Amaral said there needed to be a better understanding among the public of how to engage with the board.

During the recess, Amaral said she spoke to the members of the public along with the secretary-treasurer about how to better participate during the meeting and was able to have a better conversation with them at the end, as well as inform them of the next time they will have an opportunity to ask questions. 

“We do want people to participate – properly and respectfully and to provide safety for both our members and for the audience,” she said, adding that she hopes they can have more productive meetings in the future.

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.