Students and parents at Parksville’s Ballenas Secondary School have raised privacy concerns around bathroom doors being bolted open, but the school district said it’s an effective and necessary tactic for reducing vaping.
Beverley McCoy’s daughter is a Grade 9 student at Ballenas who said she feels increasingly uncomfortable using bathrooms at school since doors have been kept open. After hearing her daughter’s concerns, McCoy reached out to the school, as well as a lawyer.
“They should be able to feel comfortable going into the bathroom,” she said. “Public bathrooms aren’t very private, but to invite the hallway in, too?”
McCoy said she doesn’t think bolting doors open will actually reduce vaping — in her eyes, students will vape no matter what.
“They’re still vaping, they’re just standing in the corner now,” she said.
In response, the school district said this is an extremely effective way to combat vaping, and that they’ve addressed initial privacy concerns. Keven Elder, superintendent of schools for SD69, said vaping is a huge health risk, and making it harder for students to gather in a group behind a closed door is one way to fix a pressing problem.
“It shines a light on vaping — that’s the issue,” he said. “The conversation about the bathroom doors is relatively straight forward.”
When asked about privacy, Elder said the school has installed a privacy screen in front of urinals so people in the hallways can’t see them, and that stalls aren’t visible from outside the bathrooms. Elder said vaping is a top concern for schools right now and that students gathering to vape behind closed bathroom doors has been a big part of the issue.
“Over the last year or two, the main reason for gathering privately behind a closed door has been to vape,” he said.
An online petition asking the school to unbolt the doors, started by a student at Ballenas last week, has garnered more than 350 signatures. Some students who signed the petition insist their concerns aren’t about vaping, but around feeling comfortable at school. One student said even if people can’t see directly in the area of the bathroom, people can still hear what’s going on in the bathroom — a concern, she said, especially for people using sanitary products.
Elder said the problem of students gathering to vape in bathrooms is an old one, except it used to be with cigarettes. Having a space that makes it easier for kids to hang out and vape discourages kids from using the bathroom for legitimate reasons, he said.
He pointed out most bathrooms at Ballenas have been locked open at Ballenas for some time, it’s just recently that the final two in one wing were locked, though some students said having those two bathrooms meant the difference of feeling comfortable at the school.