After struggling to address vaping and vandalism in school bathrooms, Stillwater Area High School (SAHS) administration implemented a bathroom policy this week that has some students peeved.
SAHS administration started locking most bathrooms during class to curb vaping and vandalism on Monday, April 1.
However, some students say the practice is unfair and has disrupted learning time.
SAHS Principal Robert Bach said staff reopen bathrooms during passing time when teachers can monitor restrooms, a practice Bach said is commonly used by schools to reduce negative behavior. Bathrooms near higher traffic areas, like outside the front offices, remain open throughout the day, he said.
Students also reported feeling uncomfortable going into bathrooms where those activities occurred, Bach added.
“We just needed a better way of supervising and monitoring and that’s difficult too when your resources are limited,” Bach said. “The bottom line is we need to empower students to take back those bathrooms.”
Schools across the country struggle with how to address teens vaping in school, Bach said. This is also not the first time SAHS has grappled with the issue. In 2017, SAHS staff increased supervision outside of bathrooms during passing time and propped bathroom doors open, Bach said.
“The number of incidents decreased dramatically when we did that,” he said.
However, some students were not happy with the recent change.
Joe Devins, a SAHS junior, said the new policy punishes all students for the wrongdoing of a small percentage of students. Closing most bathrooms is not an effective solution, he said.
Devins also said the presence of teachers or security officers in bathrooms has made it intimidating for some students to use the facilities.
“I’ve been searched because they thought I had a vape on me when it was really just my cellphone,” Devins said. “It did pull me out of class for the majority of class.”
Allison Shore, a SAHS sophomore, said with about 3,000 students at SAHS, opening restrooms during passing time doesn’t cut it.
“The line is so long that you’re almost guaranteed to be late for class,” Shore said.
Shore said vaping is a “huge problem” at SAHS. However, since the bathrooms closed, she said students who vape use their e-cigarettes in hallways.
“If they’re not doing it in the bathroom, they’re doing it in our learning space,” Shore said.
Students also started an Instagram account, @letuspee, that gained nearly 2,000 followers as of press time Thursday. Additionally, a link to a petition on the account calling for SAHS administration to reopen bathrooms during learning time garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
An administrator of the LetUsPee instagram account said although they started the account as a joke, it has become a platform for student voice. The administrators of the page are anonymous and asked the Gazette for anonymity.
The administrator said they used the LetUsPee instagram page to gather student opinion on how to better solve the problem. They said SAHS has not done enough to educate or engage students on the topic of vaping.
“In order to teach people, you have to know your audience,” they said.
Bach said research shows the top way to combat teens vaping or using other drugs is to involve parents. This fall, Bach said SAHS hosted a community meeting to engage parents on the issue. The district also includes resources about chemical health in weekly newsletters, he said.
SAHS also has all incoming ninth grade students complete a program that helps students address social and emotional needs and reduce unhealthy behaviors, Bach said.
Students want school administrators to seek student voice before they make decisions like closing bathrooms, the LetUsPee administrator said. Bridging the communication gap between administration and students can help avoid conflicts in the future, they added.
SAHS student council president Abdulaziz Mohamed said student council met with SAHS’ administrative team Wednesday. He said administration did not clearly communicate with students before putting the new bathroom practice into affect.
“The way in which they did this process was a little quick as well,” Mohamed said. “Mr. Bach has always been open in having dialogue.”
Moving forward, Bach said administration will meet with student council again to continue the conversation. He added there is no set timeline for when bathrooms will reopen during class time.
Contact Kim Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org