The new public schools under construction in Rochester will have a large number of gender-neutral restrooms, an initiative that had received support in the planning process for the new buildings funded in the 2019 voter-approved referendum.
The school district's original goal for having gender-neutral restrooms didn't conform with state code. Because of that, the district submitted a request for a variance in October 2020. The request included multiple statements from third-party individuals, advocating for the variance to be approved.
The variance request, which was written specifically for the new elementary school on Overland Drive, said the district wanted "to incorporate fully gender-neutral restrooms throughout the building." According to Kevin Holm, an architect with the firm LHB, the variance request received some pushback. The district has since reconfigured its plans for the school to be code compliant while still providing a slew of gender-neutral options.
"We realized that we would probably be able to go at it from this approach, which is fully code-compliant," Holm said. "The variance is no longer needed."
Like the district's existing buildings, the elementary school will have groupings of restrooms in its educational areas. Six of the stalls in any given grouping will be gender-neutral and share a common sink area. During previous meetings about the new schools, Holm indicated each of the stalls would have doors that extend to the floor, unlike stalls in many existing public restrooms.
The restroom groupings also will have two handicap-accessible stalls. They have designated each of those larger stalls to be gender-specific. Those gender-specific stalls essentially will be private restrooms and will include individual sinks.
The kindergarten areas of the school will have a different set-up, with restrooms just off the actual classrooms.
The restrooms for the new middle school, as well as the new versions of Bishop and Longfellow elementary schools, will have similar configurations.
One of the results of the restroom designs in the new buildings is that the schools will not have any urinals.
"I think we set it up so that the entire building can be switched to gender-neutral when code allows it," Holm said. "There are only a few districts that I know of that are at this level of gender neutrality."
When the district originally submitted its request for a variance, the document included multiple statements supporting the move toward having more gender-neutral restrooms. Those statements were from individual students at Rochester's high schools, as well as the Rochester-Olmsted County Youth Commission.
"The American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals all support and acknowledge that a student's right to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity is critical," the statement from the youth commission said. "You are not doing this just for a small group of students. Creating spaces that affirms individuals' gender identity benefits all of us as students in Rochester Public Schools."