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Toilet-gate has California students flush with anger

This news story was published on February 11, 2012.
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By Theresa Harrington, Contra Costa Times –

CONCORD, Calif. — Instead of beating the bell between classes at Mount Diablo High, senior Charles Campos often finds himself waiting frantically for a chance to use a rare unlocked restroom on the sprawling campus.

Relief has been hard to come by since beleaguered Principal Kate McClatchy closed all but one boys and girls’ bathroom to the 1,400 students last year. Although McClatchy unlocked a second set of restrooms this week, the dearth of commodes may violate the state’s education code. She refused to say why she did it, but district trustee Gary Eberhart said he’s been told it’s because of graffiti.

So while McClatchy may have solved one problem, she has indisputably caused another. The lockout has made Campos and other students late to class, and those who skip the urinals in favor of making it to class on time are antsy and distracted because they couldn’t go. A few have resorted to urinating in stairwells or other places, Campos said.

“And there’s no toilet paper,” Campos told the school board Monday.

Recognizing the urgent cause, the school’s Amnesty International club has launched a new campaign: “Pissing is a Human Right.”

They have posted fliers on shuttered doors asking “Why is this bathroom locked?” Campos, who is president of the club, said people who are concerned should call McClatchy and ask why there are so few restrooms open.

During Monday’s board meeting, only Eberhart questioned the closures. He asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence to let him know how many restrooms are available and how many are locked, but no other trustee responded to the students’ concerns.

That prompted district resident Brian Lawrence to compare the board to the Soviet Politburo — “stone-faced and nonresponsive,” even when faced with an issue involving basic human dignity.

Students aren’t the only ones questioning McClatchy’s decision. Teachers have told administrators their students need more restrooms, and listed the issue as one of the complaints after a majority of instructors voted No Confidence in McClatchy in December.

In response, the school opened one additional boys and girls restroom on the vast campus Monday, bringing the total number of toilets available to five for girls and two for boys, along with four urinals. But that is still far short of what is required.

Diane Waters, an architect with the state Department of Education, said schools built before 1994 are required to provide one urinal per 30 boys, one toilet per 100 boys and one toilet per 45 girls. She said she recognized that graffiti is a problem, but said she doesn’t think that qualifies as a safety concern, which would allow the school to close bathrooms.

Wood shop teacher Steve Seaman, who has a key to a small restroom, said students sometimes beg him to unlock the door.

“I have kids running up to me right when the bell rings and they’re like, ‘Let me in!’” he said.

But, Seaman said he can also see the administration’s side.

“These kids just really trash these bathrooms,” he said. “Custodians have to scrub the walls down with the graffiti. But, it seems to me there ought to be some way of policing it during the day. To me, fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the work.”

The school announced this week that the second set of restrooms had been opened, and promised the bathrooms were stocked with toilet paper, soap and paper towels — crucial supplies that are required by state law but often missing.

Despite the assurances, senior Savannah Ridgley said one soap dispenser was empty in the morning. Regardless, students behind the campaign say they won’t stop their advocacy until all the restrooms are open.

“We, the students of Mount Diablo High School have needs, rights and concerns. And now, we the students of Mount Diablo High School are using our voices,” Ridgley told the board.

Eberhart said graffiti is a supervisory situation that needs to be resolved.

“Where we struggle is we need to spend more money on campus supervision and we don’t have more money to spend,” he said. “So it’s kind of a Catch-22.”

Still, Eberhart said he plans to insist that the school comply with laws that require sufficient restrooms to be open to students.

Waters said that anyone in the community can file a formal complaint against the school, which would require the district to remedy the violation. So far, no one has taken that step.



Secondary schools built before 1994:


Boys: One urinal per 30 and one toilet per 100


Girls: One toilet per 45


Mount Diablo High is providing:


Boys: Approximately one urinal per 175 and one toilet per 350


Girls: Approximately one per 140

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