City high school tosses girls’ privacy concerns out the door St. James Collegiate leaves stalls visible from hallway in one of two female-specific washrooms in attempt to end ‘congregate vaping,’ other facilities locked

A Winnipeg high school is being accused of violating students’ privacy after removing the door of a girls’ washroom in an effort to curb a spike in indoor vaping.

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A Winnipeg high school is being accused of violating students’ privacy after removing the door of a girls’ washroom in an effort to curb a spike in indoor vaping.

St. James Collegiate students told the Free Press they arrived at school Thursday to find the door had been removed from one of two girls’ washrooms; the second one was locked. One of the boys’ washrooms was also locked, but the door was in place at the entrance to the second.

Students and their parents were not informed about the measures beforehand.

Photos of the now-doorless washroom show stalls clearly visible from the hallway. A ceiling security camera is mounted just outside the facilities.

One 16-year-old student said she had heard the change was made to make it easier to catch students vaping in the washrooms, but there was no notification or explanation from staff about the change, or why only the girls’ washroom door had been removed.

“They decided that they were going to take down the washroom (door) and basically leave us without anything except for stalls that have holes in them, which (means) guys can walk in and out of our bathroom — the girls’ bathroom — and basically do whatever they want,” said the student, who asked not to be identified.

“They can see us going to the washroom, and that’s not OK. I don’t feel safe anymore going to the washroom.”

The Grade 10 student said her peers are afraid to use the facilities, and some are leaving the grounds to use washrooms at nearby stores and restaurants, where they have to pay for access.

“I’m scared to be at school because I don’t know what’s going to happen next… it’s a day-by-day thing, and the school is getting worse day-by-day,” she said.

“They can see us going to the washroom, and that’s not OK. I don’t feel safe anymore going to the washroom.”–Student

Students have already taken to social media to protest the sudden change — an Instagram account named “sjcprotesting” posted a photo of the open bathroom Thursday morning with a caption calling the change unfair.

“Why punish all of us for other’s actions?” the caption reads.

One parent told the Free Press there was no warning the school was going to make the change, and he only found out when his daughter called home.

“Enraged is an understatement,” the father said. “Historically, these are the types of issues that get brought to parents and parents deal with it, right? The school is just going over the line.”

He said he’s not the only parent to have received a call from a distressed daughter Thursday morning.

“When I was her age, I looked forward to going to school. I can’t imagine kids are looking forward to going to school and putting up with this kind of stuff. She probably feels like she’s being stepped all over, her and her friends, they have to look over their shoulders everywhere they go, I bet,” he said.

“Can’t even be trusted to go relieve themselves without being second-guessed and not trusted, and looked at with a raised eyebrow.”

The Free Press requested an interview with St. James Collegiate principal Lorelei Steffler, and received a written statement from St. James-Assiniboia acting superintendent Jenness Moffatt.

She said there are options available to students who don’t feel safe using the doorless washroom, including a universal washroom and gym changing-room facilities.

“The removal of the door to the girl’s washroom today is a temporary measure designed to stop the concerning use of this space for congregate vaping,” she said. “Staff also searched a small number of student backpacks to enforce substance-use policies, in accordance with established search and seizure procedures.”

Another student told the Free Press said she felt “disgusted and very unsafe,” and concerns of possible sexual harassment are already circulating through the student body.

“I have heard other male students say that they could just walk into the bathroom now without any problems, and I also heard other students say they were peeking under stalls and into the girls’ bathroom,” she said.

The student said she and her friends took their concerns to staff and were told the door will not be re-installed anytime soon.

“That’s an ongoing problem since I’ve been here,” she said. “Voicing concerns and not being heard.”

On his way to catch the bus, 17-year-old Grade 12 student Braedon Harvie said the change made him feel uncomfortable.

“Having a lot of female friends, I value their respect and their privacy,” he said. “And I don’t want to be accused of something because there’s no privacy for them.”

The decision punishes all students for the actions of a small group of rule-breakers who, Harvie said, won’t be deterred.

“It’s not going to stop anything,” he said.

Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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