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Arizona school district considers bathrooms with no doors

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A school district in Arizona is considering a new open concept bathroom that would allow staff to see into the facilities from a hallway, which the school’s administration says was made to address student behavior.

An administrator said during a presentation to the Peoria Unified School District’s Board of Education Thursday night that the new design will allow for better monitoring of the facilities while maintaining privacy for students who are using them.

Kevin Molino, chief technological and operations officer, told the board that the new design for bathrooms in two high schools was made after talking with students, parents and school resource officers and addresses compliance with federal disability laws and safety concerns.

The current bathrooms at Cactus High School and Ironwood High School are dated and do not allow staff to monitor what’s going on inside, Molino said during Thursday’s board meeting. The new design removes the wall that prevents staff from seeing what’s going on inside the bathroom, which allows students to congregate.

“I’ve spoken with parents and students who tell me that students are uncomfortable using restrooms because other students use it as a hangout spot, which is not visible by staff,” Molino told the board. “When they do report it to staff, and the staff are made aware of it, they address it.”

Molino said the two guiding principles of the remodel were increased ADA accessibility and visibility into the bathrooms and that the project is in a stage where administrators are asking for input.

“As we gather feedback, we’ll find a balance between privacy and safety,” Molino said.

Molino also said each stall in the bathrooms will have a vape monitor and there will be a camera outside the bathroom door to monitor the entryway. The doors to the stalls will have between a six- and 10-inch gap under them to the floor.

Community members were quick to point out the importance of privacy in bathrooms. An individual named Corky Haynes told the board that most public bathrooms give users a sense of privacy and that she couldn’t tell if the proposed bathrooms would offer the same level of comfort.

“Girls and women, we kind of like that sense of privacy, maybe more than guys,” Haynes told the board. “That would be my one concern before we do move forward and approve it.”

“The pictures I just saw seemed like they were a little too open for feeling comfortable using them,” Haynes added.

Trina Berg, president of the Peoria Education Association, thanked the board for looking into changing the bathroom and said that, as a teacher, there were big concerns about students breaking the rules in the bathroom and recommended the bathrooms be as “open as possible.”

“The restrooms are a big source of behavior issues because our kids are congregating in there and right now if we know there’s a big group of kids in there, we have to literally stand outside and yell ‘Hey, get out of the bathroom,’ or we have to walk in there,” Berg told the board.

“I really love the fact that we could see into that big, open area and be able to kick kids out of there that are just congregating,” Berg said.

Berg said that while privacy is important, the doors on the stalls are sufficient while allowing staff to monitor the room.

Jeff Toby, a parent of three daughters who attend schools in the district, said that when he showed the plans to them, they didn’t like what they saw.

“They felt very vulnerable,” Toby said. “And what kind of place do we want to foster if we are going to make a plan where our daughters feel vulnerable going to the bathroom because it’s wide open to the main hallway?”

One senior at Ironwood said students support the changes to the bathroom because of the vaping and overcrowding that happens during passing periods or lunches.

Board member Heather Rooks said that she was concerned with removing urinals because her seventh-grade son said, “boys do not go pee in the toilets, they use the urinals because it’s gross to pee in the toilet because they don’t aim very well and it gets all over the rim of the toilet.”

Molino responded that high school students at Ironwood and Cactus haven’t been using the urinals because of the congregating in the bathrooms, but an architect would have to determine how many fixtures would be in the school buildings.

Rooks said daughters were also concerned about what would happen if they ran out of toilet paper and were trying to get to the next stall over because it would be open to the hallway.

“I’ve been to high school, too,” Rooks said. “That is something that girls do, we’ll jump to the next stall, so that’s concerning.”

• Chalkboard News is published by the Franklin News Foundation, which also publishes The Center Square.