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School board candidate objects to gender neutral washrooms at two Chilliwack schools

Heather Maahs said the washrooms normalize gender neutrality and also represent a safety risk
Chilliwack school board candidate Heather Maahs says some parents are upset about new gender neutral washrooms at Vedder Elementary and Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt Elementary/Middle School. (Facebook video screenshot)

School trustee candidate Heather Maahs voted in favour of the School District No. 33 Long Range Facilities Plan in March, but she says she wouldn’t have had she known that gender-neutral washrooms were included.

When students returned to Vedder elementary school last week, they found a gender neutral washroom had been added as part of the school’s just-completed expansion. The washroom includes six stalls with floor to ceiling walls/door. Each stall contains either a urinal or a toilet and there’s a small sign on each door indicating which is which.

Maahs got a look at the Vedder washroom during a tour of the school Sept. 1, 2022.

“I do not recall the plan specifically stating that gender neutral washrooms were going to be part of the renovation,” she said. “I would have opposed it had I realized this was part of the plan, without a doubt. Privacy for girls is very important when they are growing up and dealing with puberty issues. Having boys in girls’ washrooms is an invasion of their space, privacy and dignity. And for that matter, boys need to have their own spaces to be themselves as well.”

The washrooms were included on page 33 of SD33’s 91-page Long Range Facilities Plan, under the heading ‘Inclusive and Equitable Spaces.’ In a rare show of unanimity, all seven Chilliwack school board trustees approved the plan at a meeting on March 8, 2021.

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But following the dawn of the new school year at Vedder and Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt Elementary/Middle School, site of another gender neutral washroom installation, Maahs said she has heard from many parents who are upset. She touched on the washrooms in a newsletter emailed to subscribers Sept. 7, 2022 and obtained by The Progress.

“I asked the Secretary Treasurer during the tour if we were compelled by the ministry to put in these kinds of washrooms. He said no.” Maahs wrote in the newsletter. “So I replied, this was a matter of being compliant to this board, he did not respond. Normalizing gender neutrality. Trickle down…..repercussions abound.”

Maahs said she is also concerned about safety.

“Floor to ceiling stalls are not safe because no one can monitor what could potentially be happening,” she explained. “I honestly think this whole thing is an attempt to make everyone happy, but it is short sighted and can create more harmful issues with good intentions.”

David Swankey, a school board candidate who also voted in favour of the Long Range Facilities Plan, feels the reaction to the washrooms has been largely positive. He posted a video of the Vedder washroom on Facebook, with the heading ‘Much ado about the Loo,’ suggesting he was puzzled at some of the negative reaction he was seeing/hearing.

“Bathrooms are often the space in which students feel most unsafe,” Swankey noted. “A model that promotes both safety and privacy should be welcome as it helps ensure student’s attention remains on their learning every day.”


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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