Schools in Ireland will choose if their toilet facilities are gender-neutral, under new construction and refurbishment guidelines from the Department of Education.
The Irish Times reports that most future toilet facilities will include self-contained cubicles with their own doors and communal access to sinks, under an updated school design guide.
The illustrations provided in the official design guide show boys and girls accessing the shared facilities.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said it will be the choice of individual schools if facilities are gender-neutral or categorised as male or female.
However, the school design guide also states that a standalone “unisex” cubicle should be provided close to every toilet block, with separate access from the main toilets.
The department said the design of new school sanitary facilities aimed to facilitate “all users regardless of ability or disability, to minimise the risk of bullying and to minimise the consumption of water, energy and other consumables”.
It added it was aware that toilets may be the scene of bullying and the new design – where shared washbasins are visible from the corridor outside – provides for “passive supervision” of these spaces.
“The safety of the pupils must be balanced against the individual dignity and privacy requirements in sanitary facilities,” it said.
The school design guide says the new layout follows an extensive review of recently built schools and international best practice.
It also states that separate staff or visitor sanitary facilities should be provided close to the main entrance.
The new guidelines have drawn a mixed response from the wider school community.
Principal of Limerick’s Educate Together Secondary School, Eoin Shinners, said it was an inclusive step, with his school’s new building set to include gender neutral toilets after consultation with students, parents and the board of management.
“It’s reflective of how society is nowadays and we’re very welcoming of it. There is a mind-shift involved for many people,” he said.
“We see it as an inclusive measure. Students will still have a choice to use other standalone toilets if they feel in any way uncomfortable.”
However, some campaigners who are opposed to gender recognition legislation say the move will leave girls feeling unsafe.
Laoise Uí Aodha de Brún said evidence from the UK suggested that some girls were missing school instead of facing “period shaming” from boys. She accused authorities of scrapping single sex toilets without consultation.