School board proposes all-gender bathroom renovations and faces backlash

Olivia DeWan, Editor-in-chief

On March 14, the school board proposed an $11 million plan for all-gender bathroom renovations. Several staff bathrooms at Loudoun Valley and Broad Run High School will be renovated to become three single-user gender neutral bathrooms complete with sink. At Heritage, Dominion and Woodgrove High Schools, plans show “private toilet rooms” with shared sink access for all students and staff. The stalls here will be floor-to-ceiling. If all Loudoun County schools undergo this renovation, the cost would exceed $21 million.

The renovation was proposed under the LCPS policy 8040 of Rights of Transgender and Gender-Extensie Students, section C, that states, “LCPS shall modernize school restrooms and locker rooms to improve student privacy and to promote the creation of single-user restrooms that are available to all students in a ratio appropriate for the enrollment and size of the school.”

There were rumors that all bathrooms would be converted to all-gender, leaving no gender-separated bathrooms. However, these rumors were recently addressed by the superintendent.

“I want to be clear that LCPS is not doing away with the standard configuration of multi-fixture restrooms assigned specifically to boys or girls in any of our schools. All students can use the multi fixture gender specific restrooms,” acting Superintendent Daniel Smith stated in an article published by wtop news. “We are, however, increasing the number of and access to gender-neutral single-use restrooms that offer more privacy.”

Taken directly from the School Board’s “Safety and Privacy in School Restrooms Item Presentation (3-14-23), several bathroom plans were proposed. Above features images of how the floor-to-ceiling bathrooms would look. (Olivia )

This plan has sparked a number of concerns, especially regarding student safety in the restrooms with floor-to-ceiling stalls. Many parents are worried about student drug use. 

This stems from issues with drug use in neighboring schools and counties. On January 30, two girls at Bethesda High School in Maryland were found on the bathroom floor, one described as “clearly drunk,” and the other was in a state so startling that the witness “immediately started shouting for help,” according to an article published by “MoCo360.”

The proposal stated that there would be “monitoring” of the new restrooms, however, they did not state how that monitoring would occur.

Another reason why the restrooms are being questioned is because of the cost, and where that money is coming from. Funding is being cut from special education programs, leaving special-ed teachers all across the county to beg for staff and subs, according to the article. The school board is cutting three speech pathologists, one special education supervisor, three occupational therapists, and fourteen teachers, as stated in information provided by ABC7News

In addition, according to a survey conducted by LCPS’s superintendent search firm, GR Recruiting, new bathroom designs are not among the priorities parents, teachers, and community members said they would like the next superintendent to focus on.

The top results of the survey are as follows: “School safety 38%, staff recruitment and retention 37%, teacher quality 37%, and academic rigor 35%.”

I conducted a survey to gather student opinions of the topic, and out of the 20 students who replied, 17 of them stated being uncomfortable with sharing a bathroom with the opposite gender.

However, some students feel the bathrooms could be a positive addition. 

I think that the option for LCHS to have a co-ed bathroom would be extremely beneficial,” a female senior, who asked to remain anonymous because of the historically controversial nature of these types of issues in Loudoun County. “If certain students would be uncomfortable personally using a co-ed bathroom, there are still one- gendered restrooms available.”

Regardless, the renovation plans leave many questions unanswered. For example, the number of bathrooms in each school being renovated is unknown, as well the number of restrooms remaining as gender separated. We also don’t know if the renovations will be complete in time for school. 

At the time of publication, several school board members were contacted but we could not connect for an interview.