WEST FARGO — When West Fargo's Deer Creek Elementary School opened its doors for the first time Tuesday, Aug. 27, it became the first public school in the Fargo-Moorhead area without boys and girls bathrooms, instead offering all unisex bathrooms.
The school was designed with unisex student bathrooms after an architectural study found that such bathrooms, which have communal washing stations and private doors on each stall, are more space efficient, practical and safer than gender-divided bathrooms.
West Fargo Schools Spokeswoman Heather Leas said the board asked YHR Partners, the Moorhead-based architectural firm that has designed the majority of its 14 elementary schools, to study bathroom and locker room efficiencies while the district was designing its new hockey facility and aquatic center, which were built as part of a 2015 bond referendum.
The district found that unisex bathrooms allowed for more student privacy, safety and better monitoring, Leas said.
"Before, if a student needed to be checked on in the girls' bathroom, only a female staff person can go into the girls bathroom and the same for the boys," Leas said. "Now, any teacher can go in to the bathrooms and monitor them. For me, that added safety perspective is a big benefit."
Fargo Schools Spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell said while some schools have family bathrooms that are essentially unisex single bathrooms, all of the district schools have divided boys and girls bathrooms.
Campbell said the district does not currently plan to build any new schools, but unisex bathrooms could be discussed in the design process if it comes up.
Brenda Richman, executive director of community engagement and public relations, said no Moorhead schools have been built with the mixed student bathrooms.
Nationally, there has been a push for more public restrooms to become unisex, especially for families. But controversy has sparked between some groups over which gendered bathroom transgender individuals should or can use. But, the social issues were not a part of the bathroom design at Deer Creek.
"Absolutely not," Leas said. "It's truly what is best for all students. Students from all walks of life, all identities, would want that level of privacy these bathrooms provide."
Deer Creek Elementary School opened with about 231 kindergarten through fifth grade students and about 135 sixth grade students who will move to Heritage Middle School when it opens next fall. Leas said the new middle school will also have some unisex bathrooms. The district's third high school, which will be built next to Heritage after it opens, is currently in the design phases so the bathrooms are yet to be determined.
Deer Creek Elementary School is West Fargo's largest school at 82,150 square feet, said Business Manager Mark Lemer.