PPTA calls for gender-neutral school uniforms, toilets in new guidelines

Gender neutral bathrooms and uniforms are among new recommendations from teachers for making schools safer for students of diverse sexualities and genders.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) has released an updated set of voluntary guidelines, which it says will help create an environment where all students can feel comfortable.

It is urging schools to consider putting those guidelines in place.

"We need schools to be a safe place. More and more what we experience is that young people need an awareness of what their rights are, but also an opportunity to be safe than having to actively try and find a safe place in a school," PPTA president Jack Boyle says.

The updated guidelines draw on work from the organisation's Rainbow Taskforce, and are based on a number of pieces of legislation, including the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

The report says students who struggle with their identity face "a number of barriers to acceptance".

"The status quo of asking permission from school officials to wear the 'opposite' uniform to their perceived gender can be a daunting prospect for young and vulnerable students," the report says.

"When permission is granted, these students are then seen by their peers to be in opposition to the norm, and in essence, forces these students to 'come out' to the wider school community."

It says strictly gendered uniforms reinforce gender stereotypes.

The report also identifies bathrooms and changing rooms as an area of concern and fear for some students, and suggests they need to be designed to "provide implicit safety and security for all of their users".

While there are a number of schools which already have unisex bathrooms and uniforms, Mr Boyle says the decision to do so is up to individual schools.

"Each school is its own authority and they'll have recourse with their community to their whakapapa, in order to decide what they can offer."

He says, however, cost can be a factor for some schools.

"There will probably be financial implications if schools need to go to having unisex bathrooms when they don't previously, so those decisions need to be left to the schools.

"But I think most schools will acknowledge it's not going to be problematic for them to enable people to make these choices and they just need to meet the needs of these young people and do so in an open and tolerant way."

But conservative lobby group Family First claims that rather than being inclusive, the new guidelines actually shut many students out.

The organisation believes most schools will "continue with business as usual focusing on bullying and mental health issues experienced by all school students".

"Schools should be a 'safe and affirming environment' for all students and most schools are achieving this," national director Bob McCoskrie says.

"The fact that the PPTA are pushing this 'diverse sexualities and genders' agenda should concern all parents."