Frederick’s Crappy Bathroom Situation
Frederick's bathrooms have become a battleground between students, teachers, and admin. Here's why.
March 28, 2022
Let’s be real: one of the biggest issues here at Frederick is our bathrooms. More and more, the bathrooms are locked during the school day, and it is frustrating for the students. Nothing is worse than waiting through a teacher’s lecture to finally get to go to the restroom because you’ve been holding it in since last period, but then you find the bathroom door is locked.
Who’s locking them? Our school admin.
Why? Pick a reason. Cleaning. Grafitti. Broken facilities. Even antidrug measures.
Using the restroom is something that everyone does and everyone needs to do, and when that is constantly getting taken away it causes problems and pushes the limits of the students. This is not only making the students angry but is something that the custodial staff doesn’t love to do every day. After getting to know more about what the custodial staff has to go through and what they have to deal with on the daily basis, it comes clear why the bathrooms are always locked: bathroom hangouts, disrespect, and how sanitary they are.
Socializing in the Stalls
Students ask to leave class to use the bathroom all the time–after all, we all have to go sometimes. But many students are not going to the bathroom to use the facilities. In reality, these students ditch class to gossip and take a hit off a vape. How do we know? There have been dozens of suspensions this year for vaping in the building, and most students are caught when in the bathrooms. More than this, nearly everyone on our Scout staff has witnessed vaping in the bathrooms at Frederick.
Even when not abusing nicotine, students stay in the bathrooms just to avoid class. “There are quite a few students that hang out in the bathrooms,” said Frederick Lead Custodian Andrew Barella. “While I try to do my rounds look in there and say ‘Hey guys, let’s get back to class.’ And they’re just hanging out, screwing around. They either have bathroom passes from teachers and the teachers aren’t really monitoring them about how long they are out of class, or they’re all ditching and hanging out in there.”
While it seems gross to just hang out in a public bathroom, it makes some sense: the bathroom is the only place to get privacy in the school away from the eyes of teachers. Still, when there are a bunch of people just chilling or eating their lunch in the stalls, it can be hard for students who need to use the bathroom as a bathroom to find space. People hanging out in the bathroom is awkward for many students who are just trying to use the restroom–having to constantly walk into restrooms and seeing groups sitting and standing around and inside the stalls and sinks is uncomfortable. Worse, if people are vaping or doing other bad things, they often pressure students who come into the restroom just to pee to not snitch, making them complicit in their activities.
“Not gonna lie I see a lot of people smoking [in Frederick’s bathrooms]. I see a lot of people also in groups and they’re just always talking with each other and hanging out. It’s just weird,” said freshman Neil Morris.
Wrecking the Washroom
Frederick’s bathrooms also are continuously being vandalized with racial slurs, inappropriate sayings or words, and even tally marks on types of people some think they’d like to date (this is the nicest way we could put this). Custodians are constantly having to sand off the areas of vandalism. It takes time to commit such vandalism, so it’s clear that this is linked with people hanging out in the bathroom.
Engraving the walls, the stalls, and bathroom fixtures is just something that no one wants to see when they walk into the bathroom. It makes the bathroom feel run down and unwelcoming. When it comes to inappropriate slurs, then it is definitely taken way too far. Keep in mind that students aren’t the only ones who use our bathrooms–when we have a game in the gym or a performance in the auditorium, other schools, parents, and even young children use our bathrooms and see the graffiti there.
Mr. Barela really despises the vandalism. “It really sucks because it makes our bathrooms an ugly place. When they etch it in with a sharp object, then I have to get my sander and I have to sand it out because that’s the only way we can do it. If it’s with marker or pen or pen or pencil or crayon or something like that I get some Goof Off. But it really just turns the bathrooms ugly.”
Andrew told us that perhaps the only vandalism worse than graffiti is outright breaking fixtures like the soap dispensers, toilet paper holders, and even sinks and toilets. They have even needed to replace some fixtures that students are stealing: at the beginning of the school year, a trend started going around starting on Tik Tok called “devious licks” where students would film themselves stealing, breaking, and vandalizing items in public places, most specifically in schools. This challenge led to a huge rise in school bathroom vandalism.
“The other day, these kids were mad that the sink wouldn’t turn on–[the automatic sinks and toilets] have these batteries that we need to change every once in a while. Well, they ripped the hose out going into the sink and flooded the bathroom. We had to lock that bathroom up for a few days. It sucks, but what else do you do in that situation? You have to block it off, turn off the water, and deal with it.”
Filth in Our Facilities
When the bathrooms are broken and filled with students just hanging out, it leads to the bathrooms becoming really unclean. While the custodial team cleans the bathrooms multiple times a day, it still isn’t enough to keep up with the disgusting habits of the Frederick students.
Physical education teacher Sheli Mares says, “I don’t typically use the student restrooms. It is frustrating when sinks aren’t working or soap dispensers don’t work.” Math teacher Dennis Soukup seconded this, stating “I never use the students’ bathroom. It’s gross. It smells bad. During passing periods, they don’t flush.”
A bathroom being dirty isn’t a surprise. According to research by Buildings Magazine, “Nearly 50% of students rate the condition of their school restrooms as “poor or fair,” and 32% of students don’t use a school restroom because it’s usually dirty or smelly.” Their surveys of high schools around the country identified the same perceptions as we did when interviewing students and teachers at Frederick: no one wants to use a facility that is unwelcoming or unclean.
There are two issues with keeping Frederick’s bathrooms clean: getting access to the bathroom and the filthy habits of some Frederick students. “Cleaning the bathrooms isn’t always fun because you have kids using it as a hangout and turning it into a lunch room,” Mr. Barela told us. Since custodians have to wait until a bathroom is clear in order to clean it, students using a bathroom as a hangout spot delay this cleaning, keeping the bathroom unsanitary for longer.
Student behaviors are also a factor. The rules of using the restroom are clear from the start of potty training: go in the bowl, wipe yourself, and flush it down. Yet Frederick students frequently miss the porcelain when relieving themselves and don’t flush… or they flush the wrong things.
“I am having to pull everything from apples, oranges, juices, pizza, everything out of the toilet, urinals, and the walls on a daily basis,” Mr. Barela said. A common item the custodians find blocking toilets are vapes, as students flush them to try to get rid of evidence if they are about to get caught. “The craziest thing I’ve pulled out of a toilet here would have to be dirty underwear. Some have even thrown toilet paper on the walls.” While a toilet being clogged with trash drives some students away from the bathrooms, too many students don’t care and… well, pile on to the problem of the blocked toilet, jamming it further.
Ironically, Mr. Barela said that “the women’s bathroom is less destructive [than the men’s] but is way more disgusting.” This is due to the addition of makeup, which is often smeared over surfaces and used for graffiti, and menstruation products, which not only clog the toilet when flushed but can make a bathroom disgusting when not thrown away at all. “I’ve found used pads stuck to stall doors, the walls, even the ceiling,” Mr. Barela said.
Locking up the Lavatories
Unfortunately for students, these three problems have had one solution in the eyes of Frederick’s administration: lock the bathroom doors. During the day, when a fixture is damaged or obscene graffiti is etched into a door, the bathroom is locked up until the repairs have been made. At night, the bathrooms are locked after the evening custodians finish cleaning them–otherwise, they won’t stay clean until morning. Bathrooms are also locked at certain times to deter students from using them as a hangout or a place to vape.
This all makes sense, but there is one big issue: when you have to go, you have to go.
In the past couple of months, students have had to walk halfway across the school to find an open restroom. One such student, junior Ezra McDaniel, told us that “it’s just annoying. All of us who need to use the bathroom as a bathroom are being punished for something we don’t do.” The adults agree: It also sucks when others have to pay the price when the bathrooms get locked,” Mr. Barela said. A couple of students we spoke that wished to remain anonymous had even looked up state law to see if locking the bathrooms was legal (it is) and if it violated any student rights (it doesn’t, since students can request to use the restrooms in the office, where supervision is better).
To help alleviate the issue, the school started requiring teachers to send students with bathroom passes starting in January. “We just need to know where our kids are and we need to make sure that they’re learning,” Assistant Principal Doug Jackson told us. “We understand it’s a big school and it’s hard to get to the restroom between passing periods all the time. So you can use the restroom during class, but the trade-off is that we need accountability.”
Unfortunately, this hasn’t done much to help. Many teachers feel the passes are a health hazard: “It’s good to know who is out in the halls, but I don’t like people touching my stuff with pee on their hands,” said science teacher Mark Allen. Bathroom passes also don’t stop students who have an off-block or ditch class from accessing the restroom. Teachers are also very inclined to always let students use the bathroom out of fear of reprisal. “A couple of years ago, I had a girl that was abusing her bathroom privileges every day, being gone for sometimes 45 minutes at a time,” one teacher (who wished to remain anonymous) told us. “One day, I told her no, she had to stay in class. Later that day, her parents had their lawyer call the school and I was written up for not letting her go.”
Some students and faculty have been advocating for cameras in the bathrooms to catch the bad actors ruining our facilities, but “for reasons that make a lot of sense, we can’t have cameras in there obviously,” according to Mr. Jackson. “We can have cameras in the hallways and things like that, but we don’t always know exactly what is happening in the restrooms. There have been a couple of instances of students vaping in the restrooms where we knew who was in the bathroom but not who was the one committing a crime.”
Bettering our Bathrooms
So what’s the solution? According to Mr. Barela, it is “more supervision. I hate saying supervision in bathrooms because there’s a fine line of weirdness, but at the same time, if no one is actually in there, you know, checking constantly, it just takes five minutes for the kids to go in there and wreck it. I hate having to lock bathrooms because it’s an inconvenience to the kids that are fantastic and use the bathroom properly just because a few kids decide to vandalize and make a mess in there.”
The question is who exactly would supervise the bathrooms. For good reason, it shouldn’t be adults. However, some students and teachers think the answer is to bring back what was once a staple of schools: the hall monitor.
A hall monitor is, essentially, a student who gets a class credit in leadership for patrolling the halls and the bathrooms to make sure that students are following the rules. They check passes for students out of class, escort students around that cannot be trusted to walk the halls on their own, alert custodians if there’s a mess that needs to be taken care of, and alert admin if a student is breaking the rules.
“We’ve talked about this in union meetings,” Journalism adviser Brandon Coon told us. “Students are saying that this situation is unfair, teachers are saying that they shouldn’t be responsible for what happens in the bathrooms, and administrators are saying that they cannot hire more campus supervisors. But hall monitors solve this: if students want a fair bathroom policy, they can step into that role and monitor others. This takes a burden off teachers and allows a better school environment without taking money from teaching.”
Even this isn’t a perfect solution. After all, hall monitors are peers, not adult authorities. Hall monitors could easily be ignored, bullied into not reporting a student, or even complicit in what’s happening by looking the other way when their friends break the rules. Hall monitors could also potentially become bullies to students if they enjoy their power to tell other students what to do a little too much. There’s also the problem of getting students to volunteer to be a hall monitor: while some students would jump at the chance, most students wouldn’t want the responsibility or the hit to their reputation for being a “narc.”
Ultimately, there is one perfect solution: we all need to stop abusing our bathrooms. It’s pretty easy to do:
- Potty training rules: hit the bowl, wipe, and flush
- Don’t write or carve things in the bathroom–no one cares what you have to say
- Don’t leave trash in the bathroom
- Don’t break things in the bathroom
- If something in the bathroom is broken, let an adult know
- If a sink or toilet is clogged, don’t use it and let an adult know so it can get fixed.
- Don’t hang out in the bathroom-go in, do what you need to do, wash up, and leave
- Don’t vape or do drugs in general, but also keep that stuff out of our bathrooms
- If you see a bunch of people hanging out in the bathroom or breaking the rules by vaping or tagging, tell an adult
Most of us do most of these things, but if all of us do them and start reporting the few of us who are making bad decisions, our bathroom problem would be solved. We know it works: this is literally how every other school functions. We also all need to do these things because locked bathrooms affect all of us.
Our bathrooms of course have room for improvement. Students we talked to would like changes that some schools have already put into place: paper seat covers for the toilets, nicer toilet paper, better room deodorant to kill smells, and access to free pads and tampons in the girls’ bathrooms. “I think it is just out of hand that some kids think it’s okay to ruin the bathroom,” said sophomore Karina Garcia. “It’d be great to have pads and tampons in the bathrooms, but we already aren’t sanitary [with] the feminine products and how we dispose of them now, so why would they give us more supplies?”
“I know these kids know how to use a bathroom,” Mr. Barela said. “I bet you their bathrooms at home don’t look like ours. If they do this type of stuff at home their parents wouldn’t appreciate that. So why come to school and do the same thing here?”
He’s right–this all comes down to personal responsibility. There are some people in the school who think that bathroom abuse is okay and we’re all suffering. If we want a change, we need to make sure we are treating the school bathroom like our home bathroom and pressuring our friends to do the same. If we see bathroom abuse, we need to report it and, on their end, admin needs to make sure that there are consequences for these bathroom bandits that will ensure they won’t mess up the bathrooms again.
As far as punishment, Mr. Barela has an idea. “I believe they need to help us clean. You made a mess, now let’s clean it up. You break a sink, you get to help me install the new one. Let them understand what it’s like to do my job for a little bit.”