What price graffiti? At Locke High School, it's a bronze-colored token that has little monetary value but plenty of worth to students who need to use the bathroom.
School officials recently installed special locks on restroom doors that can only be opened with special tokens. Administrators laud the extra security as a hindrance to vandalism, but some students complain that the policy is ineffective and inconveniences the majority of students who don't deface the facility.
Implemented more than two weeks ago, the new policy requires the locks, which are on 12 boys and girls bathrooms in the main building of the 1,700-student campus, to be activated during classes and lunch and nutrition breaks. Teachers are allotted 20 tokens a day and are urged not to issue them, according to an administrative memo, "unless it is a real emergency."
The locks are deactivated between class sessions, and six bathrooms outside the main building remain open at all times.
Officials borrowed the idea from Jefferson High School, which has had token-activated locks on bathrooms for at least two years. Officials at that school say the locks have cut down on graffiti because fewer students than before use the bathrooms. Los Angeles Unified School District officials said they were uncertain if other schools had the locks or planned to add them.
Locke Principal Edward Robbs said the locks have cut graffiti "down to nothing."
Under the new policy, hall monitors check bathrooms after each class has started. If a bathroom has been defaced, it is double-locked (not even a token can open it) until janitors clean it.
Bathrooms are cleaned and all graffiti is painted over every night, Assistant Principal Russ Thompson said.
"We're not going to eradicate the problem, but we are going to try to reduce it," he said.
Some students complain that the locks go too far.
"I think it's unfair because most teachers won't give you a token during class time," sophomore Yolanda Casio said.
The 17-year-old said the policy does little to discourage graffiti because vandals can ask for tokens too. "Either way, (the bathrooms) are going to get messed up," she said.
Although some students say the locks have led to cleaner facilities, others claim that teachers are even more restrictive with restroom breaks than before.
"They don't want to be responsible for trashed bathrooms," sophomore Sharmaine Atkins said. "I'd like them to take the locks off. You can't use the bathroom when you have to."
At least one teacher agreed with the dissenters. "The downside to it is students who are clean and conscientious aren't getting into the bathrooms," the instructor said.
But teachers who refuse to give out tokens, Thompson said, probably wouldn't have let students go to the bathroom under the hall pass system in place before the locks were installed.
And student council president Angie Howard, a 17-year-old senior, said the idea for the locks came from students themselves at a recent school issues forum.
"It's just to keep the bathrooms in shape the way they should be," she said.
Robbs said that before the locks were installed, most student complained about deplorable conditions in the restrooms. "This is our effort to maintain a clean, non-graffitied environment," he said.
The lock policy coincides with an effort to refurbish all bathrooms in the main building. Four bathrooms on the first floor of the three-story building have been closed until new toilet stalls, fixtures and mirrors are installed.
School officials hope to replace paper towel dispensers with electric hand dryers to cut down on trash stuffed in toilets and sinks.
Said Thompson: "Our goal is to have these bathrooms spotless."