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How Can Students Learn if They Can't Use the School Restroom?

A high school in Brooklyn denied students the right to use all but one restroom.

When I was in eighth grade, my social studies teacher Mr. McIntyre used to always tell us, "It's much better to be pissed off than pissed on." Even though the thought of being urinated on made me gag, I usually laughed when he said that. But Mr. McIntyre never had to answer the question students at Brooklyn's Science Skills Center High School are asking: What happens when you’re both pissed off and pissed on?

For the past month, the high school—which is several stories tall and serves more than 600 students—has denied students access to all but one bathroom to curb misbehaving and vandalism. Students have had to wait 20 minutes at a time to use one filthy, urine-covered bathroom. A clean, accessible bathroom is a basic right. This is quite obvious for those of us with even half a conscience—denying students the right to use the bathroom is corporal punishment. And while teachers are constantly told that instructional time must be maximized, how much learning is taking place in a class of teens who can't use the bathroom all day?

It wasn't until the New York media got wind of the story last week—and more than 200 angry students signed a petition asking for more bathrooms—that the school decided to reopen two more. Thanks to that generosity, there are now three bathrooms on campus for more than 600 students. Educators are constantly told that schools need to be run more like businesses. Can you imagine any business with 200 employees using each bathroom?

School administrators defended themselves saying that budget cuts forced them to lay off the school aide who used to supervise the bathrooms. Because of issues with boys fighting in the bathrooms, they said it was too dangerous to keep them open. While that may be a problem, it shouldn't prevent the majority from using a restroom that's perfectly functioning.

Given that budget cuts are impacting high schools nationwide, it's safe to say that what happened at this school in Brooklyn probably isn't an isolated incident. It's also safe to say that this kind of thing wouldn't be tolerated in a wealthier school: Lawsuits would fly, and all the money the school district saved by cutting campus aides would be paid out in settlements.

It remains to be seen whether Science Skills will revert back to its one bathroom policy once the media hype dies down, or if the principal will face any disciplinary action for what's been happening there. Our students already feel ostracized, underfunded, overtested, underserved, overinvestigated, undermined, and misunderstood. Now, their school leadrs won’t even let them use the bathroom. Many students may not have cared much about school before, but now that they’re pissed off and pissed on, would anyone be surprised if they care even less now?

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Liz Henry

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