School bathrooms: will they ever get better?

SCHS BATHROOMS near the 300s buildings. (Taylor Van Dijk)

Taylor Van Dijk | Opinion Editor

February 24, 2024

The average person uses the bathroom 6-7 times a day, and being at school does not exempt anyone from this human need. Seen as though this is an important part of student well-being, San Clemente High School should emphasize protecting and maintaining these facilities. However, from the student perspective, the number of school bathrooms that students have access to is decreasing, as many are closed at break and lunch. Not to mention, those that remain open are kept in deplorable conditions that make them virtually inaccessible and highly uncomfortable for the average student to use. 

Having been a student on this campus for three years, bathroom accessibility has substantially decreased. The English building bathrooms and the bathrooms in the Triton Center are often locked at break and lunch, which is the logical time for a student to use these facilities. Furthermore, the P-Quad bathrooms that were once accessible to students were transformed into staff-only. This leaves the Little Theater bathrooms, the 200s building bathrooms, and the 500s building bathrooms as the only somewhat centrally located facilities for students to use at any given point in the day. 

Knowing little about the behind-the-scenes actions of San Clemente High School faculty, I conducted an interview with Assistant Principal Jeff Bailey regarding the policies in place to proctor the bathrooms, reasons for the bathroom closures, and plans for the future to improve facilities.  

As almost every student has experienced, bathrooms will be locked randomly throughout the week with little explanation as to why. The answer lies in the facilities and student behavior. When asked about bathroom closures, Bailey recounted that they are not typically ever supposed to be locked, but “this is an old school so we do have a lot of plumbing leaks, a lot of time kids will flood the toilets or whatever. For example, we had some kids tagging in the restroom the other day… until custodial get the tagging off there we have to completely close the restroom.” Additionally, “a sink was torn off the wall in the 500s building last week, so we had to close them to fix the plumbing.” 

All of these incidents occurred in a matter of weeks, which really makes you wonder just how many repairs and how much manpower the school is paying for on a regular basis just to keep up with the small number of bathrooms.  

In efforts to protect the integrity of the only new facilities on campus, the entire K-Building is locked at break and lunch for “safety concerns.” Bailey reported that, “there was a fire in one of the K-building bathrooms last year, but we have been a little more on top of it this year due to increased coverage. But remember, if you put resources towards that, other places flare up. You’ve got the parking lot to cover, you’ve got the interior of campus to cover, you’ve got the backcountry, you’ve got upper. We have 54 square acres of need.” 

So, the solution is to take student access away from new bathroom facilities and proctor the old ones with broken sinks and pipe leaks, which totally makes sense, right?

In regards to staffing the remaining bathrooms, Bailey outlined that, for campus supervisors, “restroom coverage is built into their day. We are short two campus supervisors right now, so we probably aren’t as covered school-wide, but we are looking to fill those positions.” For the bathrooms specifically, “we do have more bodies in there recently in efforts to keep them open a little bit more. We are in the process of hiring a custodian specifically for restrooms. When that person comes on campus, their sole duty is to monitor restrooms to make sure that they are clean, to make sure that they are safe, and that they are open.”

On this front, it is a public school with public funding, so there is only so much the administration can do. There does seem to be a concerted effort to regulate nefarious actions in the restrooms, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

“We want students to feel safe, comfortable, clean, and supported, so yes, there was an effort put in place,” Bailey said. “We’ve increased camera usage, we’ve increased staff coverage, and as administrators, we are out quite a bit.”

To the same end, there is only so much the administration can do legally while upholding student’s right to privacy. Bailey outlined that proctors “can never film in restrooms, look over stalls, under stalls, you do have a right to privacy and we never want to get into those waters.” That being said, the school also “has a responsibility to make sure that there are no nefarious actions, we want to know about it, and we do. We have tons of confiscations every day, mostly from the restrooms such as marijuana and nicotine vapes.”

BATHROOMS (though typically locked) near the gym. (Taylor Van Dijk)

Actions are being taken to protect student safety and comfort in this area, but is it enough? “You basically can’t go to the bathroom ever without running into something unpleasant, whether that be people’s actions, writing on the walls, puddles on the floor,” junior Emily Ohman said. “I think that the staff is doing everything they can within the limitations of their power.” But with a situation like this, you really have to wonder how it became so exacerbated and if the solution calls for a cultural reset rather than amping up discipline.

From a staff perspective, they really do want to see student comfort on campus. When asked if students feel safe, Bailey explained, “I think it’s mixed. There are students that go in there, and they don’t feel comfortable.” However, they are actively trying to improve the situation, describing how individual staff “have allowed students to use staff bathrooms if they’re not comfortable. This includes those that aren’t comfortable with what’s going on on campus or our non-binary students.”

These steps are beginning the process of change for student safety in the short-term, but when asked about the future, Bailey believes that “this is a school that needs renovating, it needs updating. This was a school that was built in the 60s, and it’s really showing the wear and tear of that. We were fixing the piping just today. After a while, you exhaust your ability to put Band-Aids on things and you need to start thinking about end of life and reconstruction.” But, at the end of the day, “it’s all about bond money. Just ways to fund some of these projects.”

This means, at the current moment, there is no substantial long-term plan to redo San Clemente High School restrooms.

While locking and increased supervision around the bathrooms is necessary to implement due to student behavior and bathroom incidents in recent years, there must be some way of creating better conditions for students on a long-term basis. The health of the entire student body should not suffer as a result of the misactions of a few people and unreliable facilities that have not made substantial progress since the 1960s. 

Policies that increase the manpower in and around bathrooms along with closing bathrooms to fix leaks and repair pipes have improved conditions by a considerable margin. However, the solutions in place have the administration chasing their tails trying to keep up with the high demand for repairs and monitoring, making it a constant cycle with few substantial changes.    

When it comes down to it, it is high time for a complete renewal of San Clemente High School infrastructure, starting with the bathrooms. Though the answer lies in funding allocations and resource partitioning, instead of leaving it up to officials and administrators to deal with, we as students must speak up and demand change within the four-year time frame that we are given.

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