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Five secondary schools seek permission for gender neutral toilets

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Five soon-to-be built secondary schools have sought permission from the Department of Education to install gender neutral toilets for students, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

It can also be revealed that the department is also considering design proposals for new primary schools which would see the introduction of toilet facilities which would not be for any specific gender.

The move follows a growing national debate around transgender issues.

A spokesperson said the department had received "at least" five requests from schools seeking to introduce gender neutral toilets.

"While the department does not maintain a list of such requests, we can state that there are five schools at least that have specifically requested or engaged proactively with the department on the inclusion of gender neutral toilets in specific building projects," he said.

"All five schools in question are post-primary schools. The schools involved are at design development stage and it is too early in the process to identify them in that context," he added.

The spokesperson said the department is also looking "at a number of potential design solutions" for new primary school buildings which involve locating toilets for children in "self-contained units outside the teaching space, which will be accessible to all".

He clarified that this meant that the new toilets could be used by any of the pupils in the schools rather than having the traditional model of specific toilets for boys and girls.

A Government report published last year showed 297 people applied through gender recognition legislation to have their preferred gender legally recognised by the State.

Ten of those who applied for recognition were aged between 16 and 17. The figures relate to the years between 2015 and 2017.

The Gender Recognition Act allows anyone over 18 years old to legally declare their preferred gender and acquire a new birth certificate that reflects this change.

Teenagers aged 16 and 17 are required to obtain a court order and testimony from a guardian in order to have their preferred gender recognised. Children under 16 cannot legally change their gender under current laws.

However, a review of the Gender Recognition Act published last year recommended allowing all children change their gender as long as they had parental consent.

State services would also be provided to the family before a child would be legally allowed change their gender.

St Brigid's National School in Greystones, Wicklow, recently decided to introduce a gender neutral school uniform policy following discussions with students. The school also considered introducing gender neutral toilets.

Education Minister Joe McHugh praised the initiative shown by the school. "Decisions taken by the school body, like on uniforms, are an example of how the Government envisages schools should work as a community to agree policy," he said.

"We hope to publish the Student and Parent Charter Bill in the autumn which would put those kind of consultations on more of a formal footing," he added.

He said students in Donegal had recently lobbied to have mirrors installed in male toilets and have hoodies included as part of the school uniform.

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