Students at Sturgeon Composite say the bathroom situation at their high school needs to change, and better reflect the needs of the majority after many of their facilities were made gender neutral.
At the start of September, students learned about the change.
“The first day of school, when we all walked in and saw the bathrooms were gender neutral and everybody could go into the other gender’s bathroom, it was bizarre,” grade 11 student Graeme Gibson said.
“First, it was a shock, then everybody was like, ‘Why is this happening? What the heck is going on?'”
Sturgeon Composite is currently undergoing major renovations, and the bathrooms are included in that.
“The number of gender-neutral washrooms is very high,” said grade 11 student Evan Gabbey.
“They sent two whole sets as well as two individual stalls to gender neutral and there’s one set for male and female and that does not at all represent the population of people who require the gender-neutral bathrooms.”
Some students say they feel awkward sharing the new facilities.
“The first time I saw them I was nervous and I was like, “Okay I’m just going to not use the washroom today,” grade 11 student Austin Kirk said.
He goes out of his way to avoid sharing the gender-neutral washrooms.
“I have a chemistry class on one side of the school next to the gender-neutral washroom but there’s a washroom in the lobby that is just a boys washroom and I walk there every time I need to use the washroom.”
A few students told Global News they’re often late for class because lineups can form in the three stall girls or boys bathrooms.
Another issue that was raised is privacy.
“I find it uncomfortable. I have other things to do than boys (do) in there,” student Jacey Taylor said, referring to the changing of feminine hygiene products. “You can hear it.”
The gender-neutral bathrooms have no doors and are therefore open to the hallways. They also have multiple stalls, some with toilets and others with urinals. Those stalls are not completely enclosed.
That didn’t sit well with Gabbey. He decided to start a petition, asking for more gender-specific bathrooms. On the first day, he was overwhelmed by students looking to sign.
“I alone had 112 signatures. The only reason I couldn’t get more was I ran out of forms, I couldn’t get enough,” he said.
Gabbey said the idea of having multiple stalls in a gender-neutral bathroom is unique and flawed.
“You don’t see those anywhere. You don’t see those in restaurants, you don’t see them in government offices, you don’t see them anywhere, yet we throw them into our schools and assume it’s just fine. I don’t know whose idea this was but it wasn’t a very good one.”
Global News reached out to the school and the school division, but no one was available to comment.
Education Minister David Eggen is also monitoring the situation.
“Sturgeon, clearly they have to make sure that they accommodate everybody, make sure everybody’s needs are met. I hope that they can sort this out as soon as they can.”
Concerned parents recently started a Facebook group looking to educate other parents on what is happening at the school.
Annette Gabbey said, “Even today there’s a lot of parents that have no idea on what’s going on in the school regarding the bathroom policy.”
She said she thinks gender-neutral bathrooms should be self-contained — and the school does have a few of those that could be designated gender neutral.
The matter has parents speaking out to their trustees.
“To make arbitrary decisions like this and not involve the parents is a gross injustice,” mother Amber Harris said.
“It’s getting pretty big now. People are starting to perk up because our school is not the only school that’s implementing policies like this.”
There are currently other bathrooms being renovated at Sturgeon Composite, and students hope they will be made gender specific.
“It needs to reflect the population of the student body. There are absolutely some people that need to be accommodated with the gender-neutral washrooms and that’s totally cool. But that is a minority,” Gibson said.
Trustees will vote on the matter next Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Morinville.