Nasty Public School Bathrooms

Education Feature
Nasty Public School Bathrooms
Adam Wilkenfeld
CWK Producer

“Sometimes our bathrooms are so nasty that some people don’t even like to go in there.”
-Devin, 10-

The first thing you notice is the noise, then the smell and then the disrepair. In our orderly brick schoolhouses, there’s one room that most health departments would condemn: the bathroom.

“Check this out,” says Tom Keating, giving a tour of a broken down bathroom and pointing to an exposed toilet stall. “Basically, you’re having your most intimate moment and you have no door.”

Keating, a former teacher, has launched his own mission to clean and fix public school bathrooms. It’s called Project CLEAN (Citizens, Learners, and Educators Against Neglect).

“I mean, look at this thing, there’s nothing in there,” he says, pointing to an empty soap dispenser.

Many students agree with Keating’s assessment.

“Sometimes, the toilets are all clogged up; the stalls are falling apart,” 14-year-old Jessica says.

“The sanitary boxes won’t be changed for days,” says Emily, 14.

“Some of them are just completely nasty; toilet paper all over the floor,” 10-year-old Devin adds.

According to one poll from USA Weekend, 43% of middle and high school students in public schools say bathrooms are so gross they actually avoid them.

“What I do, I hold – I use the restroom in the morning time before I go to school,” Devin explains.

The grime is a health risk, but Keating says a larger issue exists: It’s difficult to teach kids respect for education if, every day, parents and teachers and students put up with dirty, broken-down bathrooms. He says a good way to start would be to change all the signs from “Boys” and “Girls” to “Men” and “Women.” He says if you treat kids like adults, they are more likely to act like adults.

“You don’t start with big issues, you don’t start with changing test scores, you start with soap,” Keating says. “You start with soap and towel and tissues and doors, and making sure there’s temperate water, and then you teach the kids by example, by discussion.”

A discussion, he says, that points out that a clean bathroom is the responsibility of the kids … not just the janitor at the school.

“If they want to have a better place to use the bathroom or wash their hands or all that, they should work on that themselves,” Emily says.


By Kim Ogletree
CWK Network, Inc.

With litter on the floor, missing stall doors, graffiti-laden walls and empty soap and toilet-paper dispensers, many school restrooms violate the very ideals that teachers are trying to instill in their students: citizenship and respect. In response to this health and social crisis in schools across the country, former teacher Tom Keating has launched a nationwide crusade – Project CLEAN – which teaches district officials how to keep facilities sanitary and free of vandalism. According to Keating, grungy school bathrooms fuel a vicious cycle: Why should students show respect for school property if those who own it – the school officials – do not respect it themselves?

To combat this sentiment, several schools and departments of education are following Keating’s lead by developing their own policies for improvement. American School & University magazine cites the following strategies for restroom usage, monitoring and maintenance that have proven successful:

  • One school district in Tempe, Arizona, instituted a repainting program that requires students who are caught writing on bathroom walls to repaint the area.
  • A poorly maintained, rundown restroom provides the perfect opportunity for continued defacing. Several schools report that students are less likely to vandalize a well-maintained, well-equipped restroom.
  • Standardizing the purchase of restroom products helps simplify the maintenance and repair of systems.
  • Several schools assign staff members times to check on restrooms throughout the day. They report that if students are aware that staff may check the restroom at any time, it lessens their likelihood to vandalize.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Education encourages its schools to establish an “honors” bathroom where students sign an honor code emphasizing personal responsibility. (They are given a computerized card permitting access to specially designated “honors” bathrooms.)
What Parents Need to Know

While school officials have a responsibility to teach students to respect school property, it is parents who play the most important role in raising respectful students. The University of Minnesota Extension Service offers the following methods of instilling respect in your child:

  • Help your child feel good about himself or herself. Be a positive person. Compliment your child when he or she does something well, like keeping his or her room clean. Your child needs to see himself or herself as a giver as well as a receiver. This happens only when your child has opportunities to be responsible at home and in the community.
  • Show approval when your child shows empathy and caring. When your child does something considerate for someone else, tell him or her that makes you feel proud, or let him or her hear you telling someone else how proud you are.
  • Help children develop a sense of morality. It is extremely important that you help your child develop a sense of morality. Every day the newspapers are filled with stories about cheating, vandalism, stealing and selfishness. Discuss making moral decisions with your child to encourage him or her to monitor himself or herself and strengthen his or her feelings of empathy.
  • Bring up caring, fairness and cooperation in everyday situations. Whether you’re at a school event, sports activity or community event, find ways to demonstrate caring, fairness and cooperation. Remind your child that when people cooperate and follow the rules, such as keeping parks clean, everyone reaps the rewards.
  • Model self-respect. If you want your child to show respect, it is important that you respect yourself. Here are some ways for you to build and maintain self-respect: develop your own interest, goals and strengths; recognize your efforts, rather than focusing only on results; be positive about yourself and others; use your sense of humor to keep things in perspective; realize that you’ll make mistakes, but that your child will probably survive anyway; and take time for yourself to renew your strength and patience.

If your child comes to you with concerns about the poor state of bathrooms in his or her school, you can take several steps to resolve the problem. The National PTA suggests setting up a parent-teacher conference to address your concerns and ask the following questions:

  • What are school officials currently doing to solve the problem? Do any of the strategies appear to be working? Explain.
  • What steps can parents take in order to help solve the problem? (You might consider drawing up your own plan of action, such as volunteering to serve as a monitor at your child’s school.)

Project CLEAN
American School & University
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
National PTA
University of Minnesota Extension Service