by Sheila Qualls
Architects discussed design details for a new elementary school in the White Bear Lake district two summers ago — right down to the placement of light switches. They shared specific details with parents so when students moved into the new building this fall, there would be “no surprises.”
They apparently omitted one detail that has shocked parents and students alike: Separate “boys” and “girls” bathrooms in the new school have been replaced with gender-neutral “privacy bathrooms.”
When the newly-constructed North Star Elementary School opened last month, many students and parents discovered “privacy bathrooms” mean elementary boys and girls use the same stalls in a common bathroom along with a common area for hand-washing.
The bathrooms consist of single toilets, floor-to-ceiling coverage, and doors with a latch that indicates whether or not the stall is occupied.
The change to gender-neutral bathrooms most likely was done to comply with White Bear Lake’s districtwide “Administrative Guidelines for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Student Rights and Protections.” The policy addresses “the needs and concerns of transgender and gender-expansive students to ensure safe, supportive, and healthy school environments where every child can learn.”
“Pursuant to state law, students shall have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity asserted at school,” says the policy, which includes similar language for locker room access.
Gender-neutral bathrooms are one of the changes funded by the largest building referendum ever passed by voters in state history. Moms in the White Bear Lake district weren’t happy when they found out their little girls would be forced to use the same bathroom as boys.
Several North Star moms who contacted Principal Dan Schmidt told Alpha News he assured them he is working on a solution.
“The first go at fixing [it] did not work. So I did email again, and he assured me he has another idea … this will be put into place hopefully next week. I do not know what the plan is, but he did say he would keep me in the loop,” said one mom, who asked to remain anonymous.
However, in an email to Alpha News, Schmidt did not indicate he is working on a solution. He told Alpha News the gender-neutral bathroom design is being used throughout the district in new construction projects, additions, or remodeling.
Otter Lake Elementary School converted its separate “boys” and “girls” bathrooms to “privacy bathrooms” over the summer, according to a mom of an Otter Lake student. The north campus high school will most likely have “privacy bathrooms” in its new addition, which is due to open next year, she told Alpha News.
The new design is taking a toll, especially on girls. Several moms said their daughters are having a hard time using the bathroom at school. They can’t find clean stalls because “there’s pee all over the toilet seat and it’s gross.”
”I have three kids at this school and my oldest has mentioned numerous times how ‘gross’ and ‘dirty’ the bathrooms are. She mentioned how there is pee all over the floor and seats. The problem is, is these single room bathrooms only have a toilet with no urinals … I am sure you can imagine the mess this causes with that many elementary-aged boys using whatever bathroom they please,” said another mom, who asked to remain anonymous.
Wold Architects & Engineers in St. Paul designed the school. The firm has contracts for five high schools in White Bear Lake, Oakdale, St. Paul, Mora, and Owatonna, according to the Pioneer Press.
“It’s an invasion of privacy and will invite inappropriate behavior,” one mom said.
“I’m frustrated,” said a mom whose children attend Willow Lane Elementary, another school in the district. She also asked not to be identified. “It’s different when you’re home with your children. You don’t know what may happen in that setting … what sharing a bathroom might lead to.”
Alpha News reached out to the CEO of Wold Architects & Engineers, but his office said he was not able to comment at this time.
All parents interviewed for this story asked to remain anonymous out of fear of repercussions from employers.
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Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.
Photo “Women’s Bathroom” by Jeff Barton. CC BY 2.0.