Some Waterloo region high schools taking doors off washrooms for ‘safety reasons’

A Cambridge, Ont., parent says she’s worried about the privacy implications of a decision to remove the exterior doors from washrooms at some Waterloo Region District secondary schools.

The doors at some schools were removed due to “public health concerns around congregating,” the board said in an email. It didn’t elaborate on those specific concerns nor would it say how many schools have taken this step. 

The controversial decision, however, sparked outrage among some parents — who have taken to social media to vent their frustration about the lack of privacy. Many of their concerns echoed those of parents in Sackville, N.B., where a school removed doors this month to curb vaping in washrooms, but reversed the decision after backlash in the community.

Ashley McBride learned about the change when her daughter, who attends Jacob Hespeler Secondary School, texted her a photo of the washroom with its doors removed. 

McBride said she was frustrated as both a parent and an alumna. The bathroom is a rare place where students can go for a moment alone, she said, which isn’t possible with the exterior door taken off. 

“I just feel like teenagers are always looked at like they’re bad, or they’re just a menace,” said McBride.

“They’re still human, and they still deserve that privacy and that moment of [solitude] when they’re in the bathroom. I just don’t agree with it.” 

No stall doors have been removed, the board emphasized, and exterior doors have only been taken off where sightlines still allow for privacy. 

The board said some mirrors have also been moved, to prevent people walking by from seeing a reflection of those inside the washroom.

‘You’re going to take away that little bit of sanctity’

Education professor Jennifer Ingrey also thinks the move is a violation of privacy — and questions the school board’s motivation.

Jennifer Ingrey is an assistant professor at the Western University Faculty of Education. (Submitted by Jennifer Ingrey)

“I don’t understand any reasonable purpose for going to these lengths in the name of discipline,” said Ingrey, an assistant professor in the teacher education program at Western University, whose research includes transgender studies and school spaces.

Ingrey noted the exterior door adds another layer of security beyond the stall itself, which doesn’t provide full coverage. 

She’s particularly concerned about how the removal of washroom doors might affect students who are transgender, or who have disabilities. But she said any student who might want to duck into the bathroom for a moment to collect themselves could be affected by the move. 

“You’re going to take away that little sanctity that they might possibly have,” she said. 

Jennifer West-Barker, who also has a child at Jacob Hespeler Secondary School, said she has more mixed feelings about the change. 

On the one hand, she said, students rely on the bathroom as a place to go and calm down or shed a few tears if they need to. 

The school board said some mirrors have also been moved, to prevent people walking by from seeing a reflection of those inside the washroom. (Submitted by Ashley McBride)

On the other hand, West-Barker said the purpose of school is for students to learn — not to meet up with their friends in the bathroom. 

“I’m a little torn on the subject,” she said. 

As for McBride, she believes the mirrors and doors should be put back. 

Asked if the board may consider replacing the doors, a spokesperson said the change “can be re-evaluated.” 

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