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Proposed Peoria Bathroom Design
Proposed Peoria Bathroom Design (Peoria School District)

Doorless Bathrooms Top Measures to Address Student Behavior

Peoria school district considers dramatic new concept to battle risky student activities

By Steve Kirwan, April 29, 2024 11:46 am

Peoria Unified School District is considering a measure to redesign student bathrooms to address a dramatic increase in smoking/vaping and other inappropriate student activities. Bathrooms have been a traditional hangout for students hiding from the prying eyes of staff, with smoking, drug use, and bullying topping staff concerns. The redesigned bathroom spaces would eliminate “dead” hiding places that make supervision difficult.

The proposal, presented during the school board meeting on Thursday, April 25, 2024, zeroed in on Cactus and Ironwood High Schools, pointing to the schools’ dated bathroom designs, which currently allow for large student gatherings and make staff monitoring difficult. The proposed designs for the new bathroom facilities would remove outer doors while creating enclosed individual toilets. It would still allow student privacy while making the traditional hiding and gathering spaces visible to staff and video monitors.

Kevin Molino, the district’s chief technological and operations officer, reported safety concerns that Molino alleges have been made by students, parents, and school resource officers. Molino assured the district that the new design proposal would reduce safety issues while maintaining compliance with federal disability (ADA) laws.

“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 stated. “When they do report it to staff, and the staff are made aware of it, they address it.”

Molino advised that despite preliminary designs presented during the board meeting, he was seeking input to “find a balance between privacy and safety.”

Molino reiterated that although the bathrooms will have vape sensors and a camera to allow open-space monitoring, each stall will have a privacy door, albeit with a six- to 10-inch gap between the door bottom and the floor.

The plan drew sharp commentary from the citizens in attendance, with the majority stating that maintaining privacy is of paramount importance. An attendee, Corky Haynes, addressed privacy concerns by reiterating that while most public bathrooms provide a sense of privacy, she couldn’t determine if the proposed bathroom design would maintain the same level of comfort.

Haynes stated, “Girls and women, we kind of like that sense of privacy, maybe more than guys. That would be my one concern before we do move forward and approve it.” She added, “The pictures I just saw seemed like they were a little too open for feeling comfortable using them.”

Trina Berg, president of the Peoria Education Association, expressed appreciation for the plans on behalf of teachers. She advised that staff had significant safety concerns regarding students not following school rules while in the restrooms. She suggested that teachers wanted to see the restrooms be as “open as possible.”

Berg said, “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. 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.”

Jeff Toby has three daughters attending district schools. He states that his daughters don’t like the plan.

Addressing the board, Toby stated, “They felt very vulnerable. 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?”

Of course, this argument opens the district to discussions about transgender use of restrooms and other “private spaces.” However, the district did not address that issue at the board meeting.

For now, the focus is solely on opening the bathrooms up for better monitoring, a concern expressed by a senior at Ironwood High. He stated that many students support the new design concept because of students’ difficulty using the bathrooms as actual bathrooms. He acknowleged that many students won’t use the facilities because of the crowds vaping in the restroom causing overcrowding during passing periods and lunches.

Board member Heather Rooks addressed her son’s concerns over removing urinals. She advised that, according to her seventh-grade son, “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.”

It’s unclear whether the district will implement the changes in the face of budgetary pressures, but more importantly, whether the changes would violate district privacy rules. In either case, concerns over vaping and other inappropriate student bathroom behaviors remain.

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