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All-Access Restrooms

Provides background information, planning and design resources, laws and regulations, and references for the implementation of gender-inclusive restrooms in K–12 schools.

The California Department of Education (CDE), School Facilities and Transportation Services Division (SFTSD) provides school facilities best practices and research guidance documents in order to assist with modernization, new construction, and school facility improvements that help optimize learning for K–12 students. SFTSD has explored the growing trend of all-access restroom facilities in K–12 school facility design. This page makes this work available to all local educational agencies (LEAs) as guidance on the design and implementation of all-access restrooms.

Background

What are all-access restrooms?

Traditional school restrooms are gendered—designated separately for boys and girls. Generally, a school restroom is a room that contains multiple stalls for private water closets (toilets), with lavatories (sinks) outside of the stalls. Standard school restrooms also have gendered features, such as urinals and menstrual product dispensers and receptacles.

An all-access restroom is not gendered—all students may access and use the facility. Best practices in design are detailed in these resources, including privacy and supervision features that benefit all students. This guidance uses the term “all-access restroom” to refer to a gender-inclusive facility that contains multiple private water closet compartments or rooms, and self-contained or shared lavatories.

Rationale for all-access restroom facilities planning and design guidance

Being able to access restrooms safely and without fear of shame or stigma affects student health, learning, attendance, and school climate for all students. Some school districts are responding to student needs by creating all-access restroom facilities that are designed to be inclusive of all genders. Providing guidance on this timely topic supports the CDE’s goals to provide safe, inclusive, and comfortable learning environments that positively affect student achievement and wellbeing.

"Consistent access to safe bathrooms at school is an education equity/education justice issue. I spent years making myself sick—either from anxiety about having to choose which bathroom to use, or from refusing to use the bathroom at all and suffering from chronic infections—because there was nowhere at school where I could safely go for fear of bullying or harassment. This work is life saving for students who have been suffering in traditionally gendered systems for so long." - Benjamin K., Trans Educator

Role of the SFTSD

The Office of Learning Environments (OLE) in SFTSD provides myriad services and advocacy for high-quality, safe, and healthy learning environments for all California students in order to improve student achievement through flexible and adaptable learning spaces and sustainable, inclusive facilities that support the whole child. Core work includes reviewing and approving new and expanding school sites and architectural designs based on California Code of Regulations, Title 5 to support local leaders with their efforts to deliver optimal learning environments.

Why is this guidance needed?

In 2016, Assembly Bill 1732 added Health and Safety Code Section 118600 External link opens in new window or tab., requiring that all single-user toilet facilities be identified as all-gender toilets. Despite the statutory requirement, schools struggle with providing a safe and inclusive experience, especially for transgender and non-binary students. Many schools have begun to move away from single-user toilets in favor of dedicating a segment or segments of their restrooms as multi-user all-gender toilet facilities.

The designs of all-access restrooms have been trending in schools throughout the state, the country, and the world, yet there are no current California design standards for these facilities. For LEAs that make the local decision to implement all-access restrooms, this page provides guidance and identifies best practices that will be beneficial to project planning and design in modernization, new construction, and/or facility upgrades. For LEAs that may be curious about the benefits of inclusive restroom designs, this guidance can provide a starting point for discussions, local decision-making, and collaboration with the community, students, staff, and design professionals.

These resources do not constitute a mandate that requires any new or existing restrooms be designed as all-access. The intent is not for all restrooms provided on a school campus to be all-access—rather, to support architects and school leaders in their planning process when designing safe and inclusive restroom facilities that increase choice for all students.

This guidance is based on research, focus group meetings, and surveys conducted by the CDE.

Planning

Shifting from multi-user gendered restrooms and single-user all-gender restrooms to offering blocks of restroom facilities for all students requires thoughtful planning and robust engagement of the school community.

Key Planning Considerations

  1. How does the student population feel about integrating a cluster(s) of restroom facilities available for all users on their school site?
  2. How does the larger school community (e.g., teachers, staff, administrators, families) feel about integrating all-access restrooms on their site?
  3. What school board policies or administrative regulations may need to be updated to include the LEA’s commitment to providing safe and adequate restrooms for all students?
  4. What locations (i.e., schools, grade levels) would be optimal locations to implement all-access restroom facilities?
  5. For existing schools, what are the design constraints? What are possible opportunities?
  6. What design standards will the LEA adopt?
  7. What are the additional costs associated with designing and constructing a cluster of all-access restrooms? What are potential funding sources?

Communications Strategy

The LEA should work across its own organizational structure to develop consistent internal and external messaging about all-access restrooms. The LEA should define key terms and create a shared understanding of broader concepts such as “safety” and “security.” Communication and community engagement should occur early and often.

Community Engagement

When seeking community input, the LEA should clearly communicate its intent and vision. The LEA should articulate how using the restroom at school can present barriers that impact learning outcomes for every student. For example, students may feel unsafe in a multi-user restroom that lacks privacy, or singled-out for their selection of a single-user restroom. The LEA should demonstrate how all-access restrooms are aligned to its values and commitment to equity. The LEA should state the parameters of its vision for all-access restrooms with particular attention to timing and scale of implementation.

Community engagement should be inclusive of all voices and perspectives, including:

  • Representative student populations, including but not limited to, diversity in age, assigned sex, gender identity, race and ethnicity, cultural identity, disability, etc.
  • School site staff, administrators, and district leaders and decision-makers
  • Parents and guardians, community leaders, and advocates

“We have to give our students all the support they need, including access to bathrooms they can use safely. I have been inspired by the students who have advocated on this issue and want to give students the opportunity to be a part of finding the solutions.” - State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond

Supplemental Planning Questions

  1. How will the LEA engage key stakeholders in this process?
  2. How will the LEA ensure that all perspectives are represented?
  3. How will the LEA make sure that this process is safe and inclusive for everyone, especially students?
  4. How will feedback received inform the development of the LEA’s design standards for all-access restrooms?
  5. What school-level communication post-construction and post-occupancy may be helpful in educating students about the use of new or reconfigured facilities?

Design

The CDE recommends that an LEA continue to engage its students and school community during the design phase of all-access restroom implementation. Best practices identified below are provided as a starting place for developing site-specific design concepts in partnership with a licensed architect.

Safety

Two conflicting aspects of safety are privacy and supervision. All-access restrooms should maximize privacy for users. This can be supported by individual design elements—such as more substantial partitions between stalls—but also by their location and their layout, which can offer privacy of the facility selected.

Safety considerations are not unique to all-access restrooms. All restrooms require supervision for inappropriate or dangerous behavior, as well as the potential for a medical emergency. Supervision is usually achieved by sight and/or by sound.

Key Design Considerations

  1. How will the physical layout of an all-access restroom be different from a traditional gendered restroom?
  2. How will the design of the all-access restroom support supervision?
  3. How can the LEA ensure that all-access restrooms are appropriately monitored while also providing privacy to all students?
  4. What additional design considerations apply to multistory construction?

Design Best Practices

Together, the following design best practices increase privacy as well as opportunities for supervision:

  1. The entrance to the all-access restroom is wide and open; there is no door, or the door can be fixed in the open position during operational hours.
  2. Whenever possible, two ingress/egress points are preferred, providing more freedom of movement in the space.
  3. Water closets (toilets) are located in compartments that ensure privacy.
  4. Toilet compartments have an occupancy indicator or other feature that demonstrates single occupancy.
  5. Lavatories (sinks) are visible from adjacent areas.
  6. The shape of the restroom does not create any supervision blind spots.

Supplemental Design Questions

  1. Where will all-access restrooms be located? Where will gender-specific restrooms be located?
  2. What design features could indicate that a privacy compartment is occupied? What design features could confirm to the user that the compartment is locked?
  3. What design features could deter and/or alert school staff to drug use, self-harm, bullying, vandalism, or other inappropriate actions that can take place in any restroom?
  4. How will the restroom’s design allow access in the event of an emergency? How would staff be alerted to a possible emergency in progress?
  5. What design features will provide students with access to menstrual products, pursuant to the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021?
  6. Where will students place their belongings inside a privacy compartment?
  7. How will the cleanliness of the restroom be monitored?

Modernization

Optimal conversions of existing gendered restrooms to all-access restrooms are construction projects that will change the design features of the space to support both privacy and supervision. The CDE recommends that LEAs meaningfully engage current students in planning for all-access restrooms at their schools. This section includes examples of planning activities that can be student-led.

Location

All-access restrooms should be implemented in multiple locations on a school campus, regardless of the grade levels served. Single-user all-gender restrooms are generally found in administration buildings and other areas geared toward adults. Multi-user all-access restrooms should be centrally located for students—for example, among classrooms, in a quad, and/or in core facilities such as the gymnasium.

Location Activity

  1. Draw or obtain a schematic map of the school, such as an emergency or evacuation map.
  2. Identify all single-user and multi-user restrooms separately—for example, using different colors. Create a key for restrooms, classrooms, and core facilities used by students.
  3. Identify optimal locations for multi-user all-access restrooms. Are these locations convenient to students? Are they distributed across the campus in open areas that are easily supervised?

Restroom Availability

The California Plumbing Code is part of the California Building Standards Code, and includes the required number of fixtures, as described on the “Laws” tab above. The current requirements are gendered (male/female) and do not address all-gender facilities or fixtures. When all-access restrooms are implemented at a school, the minimum number of gendered fixtures identified in the California Plumbing Code must still be provided.

Availability Activity

  1. Create an inventory of the existing number of fixtures (i.e., toilets, urinals, and lavatories) at the school.
  2. Using the maximum enrollment of the school (“master plan capacity”) and the fixture requirements in the California Plumbing Code, determine whether the school has an adequate number of fixtures.

Access

Restrooms generally have a standard-width or double-wide door. Consider how openness, as a design best practice for all-access restrooms, can be achieved. Observe and consider circulation patterns (i.e., how people move through a space) to identify any challenges with access based on the location of existing restrooms.

Owing in part to the moderate California climate, it is common for schools to have exterior (open) rather than interior (closed) corridors. What opportunities and constraints do corridors present?

Access Activity

  1. Refer to the optimal locations for all-access restrooms identified in the Location Activity above.
  2. Draw a basic floor plan of the existing restroom showing the location of the door(s), window(s), sinks, urinals, and toilet stalls.
  3. Mark up the floor plan to apply design best practices for all-access restrooms.
    Consider:
    1. An open or high-visibility entrance
    2. Sink placement
    3. Stall configuration

Modernization Planning Questions

  1. How can optimal features of newly constructed all-access restrooms translate to renovated existing facilities?
  2. Which features are highest priority to students and staff in your school? Are any features in apparent conflict with each other?
  3. How can students be engaged throughout the design and construction process?
  4. What systems changes would be needed (e.g., plumbing, lighting, ventilation, etc.) to implement these features?
  5. What is the estimated cost of renovation? How would the project be paid for?
  6. During construction, how would the school ensure adequate access to restrooms?
  7. What messaging or communication needs to happen for students, staff, and families? For administrators and school board members?

Cost

The CDE recommends LEAs work with their design professionals to determine the cost of implementing all-access restrooms, whether built new or renovated. A site-specific analysis will be most accurate.

Key Financial Considerations

  1. What materials or equipment may be different in an all-access restroom?
    Consider:
    1. Stall partitions (or walls)
    2. Stall door height and hardware
    3. Occupancy indicators
    4. Ventilation and lighting
    5. Menstrual product dispensers and receptacles
    6. Mirrors
    7. Placement of urinals (if any)
  2. What are the maintenance best practices for the all-access restroom?
    1. How can design elements or supervision limit potential vandalism?
    2. What are the cleaning needs?
  3. How does the LEA plan to fund the construction project? What opportunities exist to leverage multiple funding sources?

Laws

When implementing all-access restrooms, LEAs must follow all applicable laws and regulations pertaining to school construction. These include:

California Code of Regulations, Title 5

Placement of Buildings – Section 14030(f)(4)

Restrooms are conveniently located, require minimum supervision, and, to the extent possible, are easily accessible from playground and classrooms.

Plumbing – Section 14030(n)

Restroom stalls shall be sufficient to accommodate the maximum planned enrollment and shall be located on campus to allow for supervision.

  1. Refer to Part 5, Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations.
  2. Outdoor restrooms having direct outside access are located in areas that are visible from playground and are easily supervised.

California Code of Regulations, Title 24

The number of plumbing fixtures required Title 24, Part 5 (California Plumbing Code), listed in Table 422.1 Minimum Plumbing Facilities, are below for a Type E (Educational) Occupancy:

Water closets (toilets)

  • 1 for every 50 males
  • 1 for every 30 females

Urinals

  • 1 for every 100 males

Lavatories (sinks)

  • 1 for 40 every 40 occupants (in male and female restrooms)

Health and Safety Code Section 118600

(a) All single-user toilet facilities in any business establishment, place of public accommodation, or state or local government agency shall be identified as all-gender toilet facilities by signage that complies with Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations and designated for use by no more than one occupant at a time or for family or assisted use.

Education Code Section 221.5

(f) A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

More information is available in the CDE’s Legal Advisory regarding application of California’s antidiscrimination statutes to transgender youth in schools.

Education Code Section 35292.5

(a) Every public and private school maintaining any combination of classes from kindergarten to grade 12, inclusive, shall comply with all of the following:

(1) Every restroom shall at all times be maintained and cleaned regularly, fully operational and stocked at all times with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels or functional hand dryers.

(2) The school shall keep all restrooms open during school hours when pupils are not in classes, and shall keep a sufficient number of restrooms open during school hours when pupils are in classes.

(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a school may temporarily close a restroom as necessary for pupil safety or as necessary to repair the facility.

Education Code Section 35292.6 (Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021)

(a) On or before the start of the 2022–23 school year, a public school, including a school operated by a school district, county office of education, or charter school, maintaining any combination of classes from grades 6 to 12, inclusive, shall stock the school’s restrooms at all times with an adequate supply of menstrual products, available and accessible, free of cost, in all women’s restrooms and all-gender restrooms, and in at least one men’s restroom.

(b) A public school described in subdivision (a) shall not charge for any menstrual products provided to pupils.

(c) A public school described in subdivision (a) shall post a notice regarding the requirements of this section in a prominent and conspicuous location in every restroom required to stock menstrual products, available and accessible, free of cost, pursuant to this section. This notice shall include the text of this section and contact information, including an email address and telephone number, for a designated individual responsible for maintaining the requisite supply of menstrual products.

(d) For purposes of this section, “menstrual products” means menstrual pads and tampons for use in connection with the menstrual cycle.

(e) This section shall become operative on July 1, 2022.

References

The SFTSD has compiled a variety of resources and research to inform the CDE’s facilities planning and design guidance for all-access restrooms. A primary source is the Inclusive Restroom Design Guide External link opens in new window or tab. by Cuningham Group, which offers a comprehensive overview, useful graphics, summaries, and diagrams that help with visualizing the implementation of inclusive restrooms in K–12 school facilities, as well as code implications, a case study, and a post-occupancy survey.

The resources and summaries below demonstrate the SFTSD’s review of the literature, including current legislative and design trends; as well as student perspectives that articulate the rationale for gender-inclusive restrooms that support student safety, school climate, health, and inclusivity for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Plus (LGBTQ+) and all youth in K–12 schools. These documents and their summaries can help inform discussions and decisions at the local level so that all parties have a common understanding of the research and background on gender-inclusive restrooms at the start of the planning and design process.

Supporting the Health and Well-Being of Transgender Students External link opens in new window or tab. by Ethan C. Cicero and Linda M. Wesp, published in the Journal of School Nursing (2017).

Summary: School nurses can advocate or provide educational trainings to school employees, so that they not only understand but also use gender-affirming approaches when teaching transgender students. Understanding varying gender identities and expressions, and the appropriate gender-affirming approaches, will help cultivate a supportive, compassionate, and caring environment. This article includes research and statistics on the negative health effects, harassment, and discrimination transgender students experience when avoiding or using public restrooms. This article also offers an extensive list of resources for further analysis as well as tables of terminology and resources for school nurses, staff, and families.

Expanding the Scope of Universal Design: Implications for Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation External link opens in new window or tab. by Ellyn Couillard and Jeanne L. Higbee, published in the Education Sciences Journal (2018).

Summary: This article focuses on the need for faculty and staff to understand the intersection and interdependence among social identities and consider what steps they can take to apply Universal Design principles in ways that consider multiple aspects of identity in order to provide inclusive educational experiences for all. This article describes reimagining inclusive spaces beyond persons with disabilities, including gender-inclusive, multi-stall restrooms and/or all-gender single-stall restrooms.

Inclusive Restroom Design Guide: A Comprehensive Analysis of Inclusive & Gender Specific Restrooms in K–12 Schools External link opens in new window or tab., published by Cuningham Group (2018, 2020).

Summary: This study includes a comprehensive analysis of gender-specific and inclusive restrooms designed by Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc. from 2012-2017, and enumerates key design components of inclusive restrooms. The research also includes a post-occupancy survey of students at Johnson High School in St. Paul, Minnesota to understand which elements of the design contribute most to their feelings of safety and security.

Creating Bathroom Access & a Gender Inclusive Society External link opens in new window or tab. by Eric Peterson, published by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley (2018).

Summary: Key findings focus on the "why" as well as the intersectional benefits of inclusivity. This policy brief articulates a pluralistic approach and recommends that institutions provide at least one gender-neutral single-user facility and one gender-neutral multi-user facility per area.

“Kicked out”: LGBTQ Youths' Bathroom Experiences and Preferences External link opens in new window or tab. by C.M. Porta et al., published in the Journal of Adolescence Volume 56 (2017).

Summary: Youth emphasized the importance of gender-neutral bathrooms in fostering a sense of safety and inclusivity. Adult support and gay-straight alliances (GSAs) were important contributors to a welcoming environment and fostered advocacy efforts for gender-neutral bathrooms. This article encourages purposeful inclusivity of youth voices when enacting bathroom-specific policies and legislation that directly influence their health and wellbeing.

School Design Guide (SDG 02-06) Sanitary Facilities External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) by the Ireland Department of Education, Planning & Building Unit (2021).

Summary: The Ireland Department of Education’s Design Guide for inclusive restrooms provides an example of comprehensive international government guidance on inclusive restrooms in school facilities and serves as an example for other educational organizations in government who may be creating guidance and policies around this issue.

Stalled: Gender-Neutral Public Bathrooms External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) by Joel Sanders and Susan Stryker, published in The South Atlantic Quarterly Volume 115:4 (2016).

Summary: This article includes research, history, legislation, trends, and design recommendations for public gender-neutral bathrooms. The authors include background knowledge and perspectives of why many public spaces, including schools, are adopting new policies and designs for more inclusive bathrooms.

Bathroom Blues: The State of Legal Protection for Transgender Students in Illinois and Chicago External link opens in new window or tab. by Jesse Tobin for the Education Law and Policy Institute Blog at Loyola University, Chicago School of Law (2020).

Summary: This piece points to possible avenues for exploration, including Board Policies related to inclusive bathrooms, and building or plumbing code compliance. The author references some specific design features of gender-inclusive restrooms, including solid locks and privacy strips that cover the cracks between stalls.

Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youths' Public Facilities Use and Psychological Well-Being: A Mixed-Method Study External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) by Lance S. Weinhardt et al., published in Transgender Health Volume 2.1 (2017).

Summary: Youth surveys and focus group interviews include perceptions of bathroom safety related to psychological well-being among transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) youth. The sample indicated that choice of bathroom and locker room use is important, and that anti-harassment policies need to support students' use of their choice of facilities. This study finds that policies that create more restrictive bathroom options for transgender students will likely create environments in which TGNC youth feel less safe in bathrooms and in school. Based on the data, this could lead to an increase in perceived stigma and discrimination, and less resilience, lower self-esteem, and lower quality of life for these youth.

Gender Identity Disparities in Bathroom Safety and Wellbeing among High School Students External link opens in new window or tab. by Laura J. Wernick et al., published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence Volume 46 (2017).

Summary: This paper extends the existing literature on educational inequalities to examine the relationship between trans identity, bathroom access, and wellbeing among high school students. Researchers drew survey data from a multi-school climate survey conducted in the U.S. Midwest to examine three aspects of students’ wellbeing: safety at school, self-esteem, and grades. Feelings of safety using school facilities contribute to widespread inequalities between trans and cisgender students. Results provide evidence suggesting that in order to address disparities in educational outcomes between trans and cisgender students—and to improve student wellbeing in general—policies and practices need to ensure the rights of all students to safely access bathrooms and school facilities.
Questions:   John Gordon | jgordon@cde.ca.gov | 916-323-0575
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Recently Posted in School Facilities
  • All-Access Restrooms (added 22-Nov-2022)
    Provides background information, planning and design resources, laws and regulations, and references for the implementation of gender-inclusive restrooms in K–12 schools.