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Worst Part of School? Bathrooms

November 09, 1994|LYNN SMITH

If he really has to use a restroom during the day, Garfield High School senior Steven Avila says he goes home--even though it's against the rules.

In the nearest boys' bathroom, only three of eight urinals and two of four toilets were working on a recent visit. Graffiti covered the walls floor to ceiling. By 10 a.m. all the paper towels were gone.

"There are always lines and they stink. They're always full of graffiti," he said. "Everybody hates it."

Of all the increasingly unkempt parts of a school, it's clear that bathrooms are the most upsetting to students and parents.

Even teachers avoid student bathrooms. "It's a matter of smell," said a teacher at Palisades High School. "They're like bathrooms on a public beach."

Officials hear complaints that some children, fearful of filth or violence in the bathrooms, have had bladder problems after holding it all day.

Parents are "outraged there are no doors on restrooms at certain schools," said Margaret Scholl, director of maintenance and operations at the Los Angeles Unified School District.

One reason is to control drug use, she said, but mostly it is to control vandalism. "Kids swing on doors and break them. In boys' restrooms, we'll maintain a door on one stall. Other than that, we won't put doors on others, they just get ripped off," Scholl said.

Plumbers, she said, "find all kinds of things jammed down toilets. Juice cans. Paper towels. Soap dispensers."

School board member Barbara Boudreaux said another part of the problem has to do with "culture shock." Some children who have come from poor rural areas in other countries don't know how to use toilets and defecate on the floor.

While district officials have introduced new cleaning products and are training custodians to do a better job, schools are trying various ways to handle behavior problems. Some have volunteer aides stationed in restrooms. Others keep the bathroom locked except at lunchtime. In some schools, children need to sign for a token to go to the bathroom, which is then inspected every half hour. "A record is kept of kids who use it. If there's any damage, all kids (who used it) are required to clean it. It's not perfect, but it's a control," Scholl said.

But as elsewhere, the main problem is too many students, too little money.

Garfield Principal Maria Tostado said her school, built in 1925, was never meant to hold 4,400 students year-round. She already reported the overflowing urinals but the last plumber, one of four serving 88 east Los Angeles schools, came four weeks earlier. Workers need 10 or 15 problems before they come out, she said. "They won't come out for one or two."

Officials ranked Garfield's facilities among the district's best 25%.

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