Gender-neutral bathrooms in the works for central Virginia school renovations

Some new schools being built in the Commonwealth will feature gender-neutral bathrooms and construction projects in central Virginia are following suit.
Published: Jul. 24, 2022 at 10:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Some new schools being built in the Commonwealth will feature gender-neutral bathrooms and construction projects in Central Virginia are following suit.

Both Albemarle County Public Schools and Charlottesville City Schools have gender-neutral bathrooms in mind when it comes to its’ upcoming renovations. The school districts say while inclusivity is a nice benefit, that’s not the driving force behind these bathrooms. It’s about safety, and privacy.

“When you talk about the privacy piece, that’s what the premium is, and that’s what the goal is that for every student feel comfortable using facilities,” Phil Giaramita with Albemarle County Public Schools said. “We actually started several years ago, converting bathrooms, restrooms in our schools, student restrooms in our schools, to make them gender neutral.”

These plans align with the transgender policy ACPS adopted last year. Giaramita says the reasoning for these bathrooms ultimately comes down to privacy. He says the district has an “internal steering committee” to make these decisions.

“The idea is to take into account every student and what every student’s needs and preferences may be and to do your very best to provide an opportunity for them or an option for them that they’re going to be comfortable with,” Giaramita said,

Giaramita says gender-neutral bathrooms are in the plans for the Mountain View Elementary School addition that will happen in about two years. He says what that will look like, is still being considered, though he knows it will have an emphasis on privacy.

“I think it’s gonna become a must do from now on,” Giaramita said.

Charlottesville City Schools will have gender neutral bathrooms in its upcoming Buford renovation, too. Michelle Amt is one of the architects on the project with VMDO Architects and she is also a CCS parent.

“When we first tried to talk to the students about what to change in the current building, like the number one thing was bathrooms, nobody uses the bathrooms, everyone hates the bathrooms, they’re gross,” Amt said.

She says they’ve looked at bathroom models across the country and found gender-neutral ones are the best for everyone.

“You got better maintenance, it’s safer. Everybody prefers to do what’s private in private, right? Nobody likes using a stall,” Amt said.

The plan is some sort of closed door bathroom instead of stalls that will then have shared sinks opened up.

“A lot of what we’ve learned from bullying is that a lot of that takes place around the sink, right? It’s like whispered things as you’re washing your hands. You get trapped in the bathroom and this takes a lot of that out,” Amt said.

She says it also makes it easier for teachers to intervene if there is a fight, and while gender identity is a bonus, there’s more to this decision.

“One of the things that you find in schools is that they reflect what’s going on in the community when it comes to issues of equity and protection and comfort and we want schools to be a welcoming place,” Giaramita said. “It’s the best circumstances under which they can learn.”

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