MONROVIA — Jesse Romero was resting in the nurse's office at Monrovia High School when he noticed students lining up to use the restroom there.
It was the only clean one they had access to, he said.
"While I was lying there I was just thinking, 'Why doesn't somebody do something about this?' " he said.
The 17-year-old junior decided to lead a campaign for improvements. Within a week, school officials had pledged to repair and paint the nine restrooms over spring break next month.
Romero photographed the effects of vandalism and neglect on the restrooms, documenting damaged toilet seats and walls smeared with graffiti. Towel and toilet paper dispensers are broken or missing, as are doors and stalls, he said.
After investing a weekend and about $70 on posters and flyers touting the Restroom Improvement Movement, he collected 750 signatures on a petition requesting repairs.
Romero bypassed the student government because "I wanted to do something right away," he said. "I decided to go straight to the top and get results."
300 to Support Cause
Romero said he had persuaded 300 students to support his cause at the Monrovia Unified School District's regular board meeting March 22, but district Supt. Don Montgomery informed him that day that the repairs would be made.
"I'm glad when students care enough to work for changes," said school board President Christine Goudy.
Principal Jack Clement said the 60-year-old restrooms usually get a new coat of paint every summer and are repaired as needed during the Christmas and spring breaks, but vandalism is a constant problem. The restrooms "were in tip-top condition" when the school year began, he said.
"I'd like to see students police (the restrooms) themselves so we don't have to do it routinely," Clement said. "It's a waste of resources."
Noting that the school's restrooms are no worse than many other public facilities, district Director of Maintenance Chuck Nickoley said his crews have a tough time keeping up with vandals.
"We clean them, we paint them, we turn around and they graffiti them," he said.
Another problem arises because amenities such as soap and paper towels are used to plug up sinks and toilets, said Goudy, who inspected the restrooms last Thursday. She pointed out that the school is vulnerable to vandals because it remains open until 10 p.m. four nights a week for adult education classes.
Romero, who plans to run for student body president next year, doesn't intend to rest on his laurels after this campaign.
"I put a lot of time into this. I want the restrooms to stay clean," he said.
Before spring break begins April 10, Romero said, he hopes to drum up interest among the 1,200 students at the school to monitor the restrooms and take pride in maintaining them.
To reduce scrawling on the walls, he will suggest pinning up large sheets of paper in every restroom.
"I've talked to some wall-writers and they said they'd use these areas," he said. At the end of each day, the graffiti-covered sheets would be replaced.
"Sure, students do things to the restroom," Romero said. "But if we make a big thing out of this, maybe we could make it trendy to keep the bathrooms clean."