New Hanover elementary school to become one of first in Virginia to build 'gender-neutral' bathrooms

Posted at 6:46 PM, Jul 21, 2022

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. — Hanover County Public Schools will be one of the first school districts in the Commonwealth to build "gender-neutral" bathrooms for students.

Renderings for the new John M. Gandy Elementary School, a $40 million school consolidation project set to be built within the next two to three years, show single-stall bathrooms lining one side of a hallway across from communal sinks.

There are no gaps in the stalls from the floor to the ceiling.

Chris Whitley with HCPS said in an email to CBS 6 that this "was the recommended design by the architect from the beginning of the design process."

"The primary goal of this design is to increase student safety, which is of paramount importance to us, and decrease potential damage to restrooms. For instance, we anticipate this design will help reduce instances of bullying, fighting, and vandalism that occur in these areas," Whitley said.

This comes as the school district continues to face a lawsuit for not complying with a statewide policy from 2020 that requires school boards to adopt guidelines consistent with or more comprehensive than the Virginia Department of Education's model policies on the treatment of transgender children.

That includes protection from discrimination from a transgender student choosing to use gendered restrooms or locker rooms that they identify with.

The ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Hanover County families for not adopting the policy.

Breanna Diaz with ACLU of Virginia said while this is a step toward protecting transgender and nonbinary youth at the new elementary school, the district's adoption of this kind of bathroom does not provide a solution.

“This is not the solution. I believe some school members think it is," Diaz said. "Hearing the messaging of these facilities being a compromise or alternative solution is honestly disheartening and a lie.”

Diaz noted that even though this is only one out of 26 schools in the district implementing this kind of bathroom design, the renderings of the new elementary school include multi-use facilities that are not designated as "gender neutral."

“There’s a lot of factors and information that we need to get a hold of as to whether or not multi-use facilities are gendered, and if they are, and trans folks don’t have access to them, then even this school is out of compliance with the law," she said.

CBS 6 reached out to the district's administration and school board, as well as the Alliance Defending Freedom, which was reported to provide legal counsel for the district earlier this year. CBS 6 did not hear back.