'Universal' washrooms with no gender designation coming to more Ottawa schools

More Ottawa schools will have "universal" washrooms that aren't dedicated to one particular gender when school starts this fall.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board working to make change at all schools

Alexis Knox (left) and her mother Amanda Knox say universal washrooms help transgender people. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is bringing in these washrooms that don't have a gender designation to several more schools this fall. (@SarahMC_Photo)

More Ottawa schools will have "universal" washrooms that aren't dedicated to one particular gender when school starts this fall.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board already had universal, single-stall washrooms in approximately 20 per cent of its elementary and high schools, but will be making the change in another five or six come September after requests from parents and students.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board director of education Jennifer Adams says the changes are helping students feel comfortable and learn better. (CBC)

"Students that feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment are going to learn better," said the board's director of education Jennifer Adams.

"All of our new builds over the last number of years have had universal washrooms, single-stall washrooms, and this is just part of that ongoing work."

Adams said they'll continue to build universal washrooms into their new schools and eventually "it will be one of the components we make sure all of our schools have."

'Likely going to save lives'

One Ottawa family with a transgender daughter said anything that makes transgender people more comfortable is worth it.

"For me that would have helped a lot while I was in the beginning of my transition," said Alexis Knox, a 12-year-old transgender girl who's heading back to public school after a year of homeschooling.

"I wasn't quite ready to use the girls washroom but I wasn't comfortable using the boys."

Alexis's mother Amanda Knox said the change comes after a lot of community work behind the scenes.

"What the board is doing is likely going to save lives," she said.

"A lot of bullying can take place inside bathrooms and a lot of kids will hold in their business until they get home." 

Adams said some of those requests for single-stall washrooms also came from parents of children with disabilities who were looking for more accessible washrooms.

The OCDSB said it's also looking at gender-neutral change rooms after another request from the community.