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City removes signs at pools banning kids over 3 from opposite sex change rooms

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 25th, 2017

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File photo of a swimming pool.
A southern Ontario city has retracted a policy that had left many parents uneasy about taking their young children to their local pool.

Officials in London, Ont., received a flood of complaints after signs posted at municipal swimming pools said children over the age of three weren’t permitted in change rooms for the opposite sex.

The city’s aquatic services department had said the policy was based on feedback from users and their comfort levels with such situations.

The recently posted signs, however, drew outrage from parents on the department’s Facebook page and by Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman said they had been taken down.

Lynn Loubert, the city’s division manager of aquatics, arenas and attractions, explained that the policy did not reflect a bylaw that allows kids aged 12 and under to be accompanied by a parent or caregiver in opposite sex change rooms.

“The practice did not reflect the provisions of the Parks and Recreation Area bylaw,” Loubert said in a statement. “In light of the confusion, all signs at City of London pools regarding age requirements for using change rooms have now been removed.”

Amanda McNeil, a single mother who was among those who complained about the signs, said she was pleased with the change.

“I am happy that (city staff) finally came to their senses,” said McNeil, who often visits what she calls “one of the better outdoor pools” in the city with her two sons, Zakk and Lucian, aged six and three. “The (sign) should never have been up to begin up with.”

The signs had directed parents to ask a staff member to escort their child through the proper change room.

But McNeil said she was “completely appalled” by the idea of sending her six-year-old son into another change room with a staff member who is a stranger.

“It’s not a viable option at all,” said the 29-year-old. “I can’t guarantee my child’s safety if he is not with me.”

Christine Ciura, 28, a stay-at-home mom, felt the same way, which is why she entered the change room with her three-year-old son, Landon, as usual, this morning.

“I disagree with the (rule) completely. It’s ridiculous,” she said. “My son doesn’t understand how to get changed himself. He needs help with these things.”

Ann Douglas, an author from Peterborough, Ont., who has written several books on parenting, says the needs of children should come before those of adults in such a case.

“If we are balancing a young child’s need for physical assistance with the task of getting dressed and undressed, and maybe needing some parental reassurance or guidance, versus a grown-up feeling a little bit uncomfortable because a four-year-old is staring at their body parts, we have to look at where the greater need is,” said Douglas, who is a mother of four herself. “It’s definitely on the child’s side of the equation.”

“What looks great on paper to a policy maker who hasn’t been a parent sometimes doesn’t play out quite so neatly in the real world,” Douglas added.

Coun. Mohamed Salih, who had contacted city staff about the signs over the weekend, confirmed the city will continue to allow kids aged 12 and under to be accompanied by a parent or caregiver in opposite sex change rooms, as per the city bylaw.

“I was disappointed when I learned about the signs. I can imagine the hurt out in the community,” Salih said. “We want to make sure (London) is an inclusive community, where people feel they can go out without any additional barriers.”

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