Bathrooms at Memorial High School are unsafe and uncomfortable to use, five students told the Madison School Board Monday.
“When I’m at school, myself and those close to me avoid using the restroom by all means possible,” junior Cam Craig said. “Avoiding water and food for many also avoids the stench of weed in bathrooms which make the bathrooms unusable for those with asthma.”
The students spoke virtually during public comment and listed a set of demands for next school year. Namely, the students want staff to pay more attention to bathroom conditions so they don’t feel like they have to avoid them.
“We’re happy to work with you, but it shouldn’t be a privilege to pee in dignity,” Craig said.
The problems, according to the students, include the lingering smell of vaping or weed, fights, sexual activity and other students staying in the bathrooms to skip class. While the school has built more single stall, gender neutral bathrooms, they aren’t immune from the issues, the students said.
Sophomore Robert Cone listed some less-common, but still disturbing incidents like finding a fish in a toilet, trash can fires and people stealing items like soap dispensers or a stall door, and noted that other students have sometimes reached under or over stall doors while a stall is in use.
MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds wrote in an email Monday night that in the past few years, the school has “tripled its number” of gender neutral bathrooms, which are all single stall and lockable. He expressed appreciation from the district for the students “who raised awareness to this issue tonight.”
“Although (the single stall bathrooms) can create challenges, we continue our work to address this issue so that every student feels safe and comfortable while using these facilities,” LeMonds wrote.
Sophomore Mushroom Latek said students avoid eating and drinking during the school day so they won’t have to use the bathroom, and noted that being hungry or dehydrated can cause problems for learning. Junior Chris Fernandez cited a recent personal experience.
“Not that long ago, when I needed to actually use the bathroom, I didn’t feel comfortable going in the school and I ended up having to hold it until I got home,” Fernandez said. “That’s how uncomfortable I felt in my school.”
The students asked the board and district administration to increase attention on restrooms by having more custodial staff or implementing more frequent cleanings, have school staff pay closer attention to bathroom security and ensure staff understand why students might have to take longer to find a bathroom they are comfortable with if they leave during class.
“As students, we deserve clean and accessible spaces to use the bathroom without worrying if we’ll be able to make it to class or how much of our education we’re going to be missing,” said student Theo Polet. “We are here to demand cleaner and safer bathrooms because that is nothing less than what we deserve.”
Craig framed the situation as one in which students don’t have a choice, so it’s the school’s responsibility to make it better.
“A majority of adults and teens factor bathroom quality into their restaurant picks, as I’m sure many of you do,” Craig said. “But we as students don’t have that right in class, and if we do, we must give up on our learning to go down the street to Noodles or Chipotle or whatever else is nearby.”