Washing Away the Old and Bringing in the New Bathroom Policies

Locked and crowded bathrooms, fire alarms, overdue SmartPasses, and policy changes—these are the things Malden High students and staff have experienced these past two years and they are tired of it.

Principal Christopher Mastrangelo explained, “I have been very vocal on how I am not pleased with what is going on in the bathrooms and we have tried many ways to try to mitigate and eliminate the nonsense that has been going on in the bathrooms…I will tell you pre-COVID we did not have these kinds of issues, not even close.”

The bathrooms have not always been like this, but students came back after COVID with new attitudes causing schools to become dysfunctional and hard to control. Staff everywhere are outnumbered by unmotivated students due to the hard year they faced prior while attending school online.

“Before COVID we did not have 50 kids hanging out in one bathroom; we did not have 20 kids sitting in one stall; we did not have 40 kids sitting on the floor; we had no graffiti; we had no damage; we had none of it. I do know it is part of a national trend. I have talked to other principals around and they have been having the same issues. That does not make me feel any better but we have never had the past issues in the bathroom,” Mastrangelo noted.

These recent changes in behavior have caused many policies to be put in place to try and combat them. “Every period now we have teachers walking the building which has made a huge dent and one of the things we have gotten going is going into the bathrooms and clearing them out,” stated Mastrangelo. “More people are going by these spaces more frequently and reminding students of the expectations and reminding them of where they’re supposed to be and getting them back to class,” added Benjamin Butler, the Boyle House Adjustment Counselor.

These policies have been effective in calming down the situations with the bathrooms but not completely eliminating them. Students still find ways to crowd up bathrooms creating less space for others, causing staff to lock them.

“Unfortunately, we have been forced to lock bathrooms because of damage or other stuff which is ridiculous. If you’re in Holland fourth floor you shouldn’t have to go to Boyle second to use the bathroom. It cuts back on time in class,” Mastrangelo mentioned. He continued, “my goal everyday is to keep every bathroom open but locking it is a very reactive process and it kind of helps at the moment. I do not think it is generally helping but when something happens in the bathroom it forces us to lock it down. The only way it is potentially a good thing is that it is easier to monitor four bathrooms than it is 16. But again, that is not fair to a kid—that they do not know which bathroom is open, they have to walk down two floors; it is really counter indicative to what we are trying to do.”

“They are being locked in response to things that are happening in the bathrooms and so that kind of makes it worse because then the bathrooms that are open are more crowded and students are frustrated and when students are frustrated about the general situation then they are not necessarily going to be displaying the best behaviors. It feels like we are caught up in this kind of cycle of issues around the bathrooms and I am not sure how we’re supposed to break out of them,” added Murphy Page, a math teacher.

Toilet on Fire GIF.

“From a teacher's standpoint I could understand that but also it restricts students’ use. A student would have to go to another house or another floor to get to an open bathroom which takes more time and it takes up the smartpass time and it just does not help because you need to go to the bathroom,” Allison Yu, a senior at MHS, stated. She continued, ”it sucks when there’s more closed bathrooms but also people go to the open bathrooms and some people just use it for the wrong reasons so it just packs up the available bathrooms and restricts students from going to the bathroom who need to.”

Asmae Sekhri, another MHS senior, also noted that, “today I had to go to three different bathrooms before I just gave up and asked a teacher for a key because I could not find a bathroom.”

The bathroom that is most locked has been the gender neutral bathroom. This bathroom was meant to be a safe space for non-binary and gender non-conforming students to have their own place in the bathrooms.

“I have heard people just hanging out in the gender-neutral bathroom and really hanging out in bathrooms is weird to me. I am trans and I have experienced a lot of anxiety around gendered bathrooms and so that to me is a huge problem. There are trans students here, there are gender non-conforming students here that need safe places where they feel safe to go to the bathroom,” Page explained.

Butler stated, “my impression is that it has always been a struggle to keep the bathrooms clean and safe for students. I think the most significant change in the five years that I have been here has been the addition of the gender-neutral bathroom and I think that has kind of been evolving and tweaked as it is something that they are trying to get right for our students to feel like they have a space that they can use.”

“The gender-neutral bathroom should not be where it is. We have a plan to have specific bathrooms in the building where only one person can go in at a time but we are waiting for support from the city to bring in the materials to do that and we have been waiting for quite some time,” Mastrangelo clarified. He continued, “one of the reasons we have issues in gender-neutral is because you can fit 40 people in there. If we create gender-neutral bathrooms the way they are supposed to be created you can only fit one. That hangout spot is now gone. That person who needs a gender-neutral bathroom can now go and use it the way it was intended to be used.”

Mastrangelo also added, “instead of being a welcoming place for students that are transgender or non-binary, it is not. Nobody wants to go to it. It is intensely selfish of those folks that are going into that bathroom and using it for what they want to use it for rather than for people that really need it.”

Yu explained, “I remember going in and feeling uncomfortable because there were girls and guys who were only there to hang out and talk. I feel like it is not the good use of what it was intended for.”

Info sheet outside of Gender-Neutral Restroom in Jenkins House.

Many of the problems happening in the bathroom affect a student’s time in class especially with the fire alarm. Most days the fire alarm will go off multiple times in the same house and/or different ones. This has caused many problems as teachers get less time to teach their lessons

“We have 85 minutes to learn if you are in the middle of an important lesson and five or six or ten incredibly selfish kids, their need to do what they needed to do was more important than anything else in the building, empties the building and a thousand kids have to leave because of them? It’s very selfish,” noted Mastrangelo.

These behaviors have not only been affecting students at Malden High School but has become a problem for students everywhere.

Page stated, “this is not at all surprising. I taught at two other schools before this and this same exact kind of stuff has happened at both of those schools.” He continued, “my school last year was definitely worse than here. Students were ripping doors off of the bathroom stalls on a regular basis.”

Dawit Kulubya, a student from Woburn High School, also added, “they stole the faucet from the bathroom and leave the toilets full of paper towels.” He also noted that, “there are hall monitors outside but they do not do a lot; they kind of just sit there and do nothing while students are destroying the bathrooms.”

A senior from Northeastern Metro Tech High School noted, “in the boys bathroom they throw oranges and fruit into the toilet and put slices of cheese all over the toilet seats and clog up the toilets with toilet paper. They take the trash cans from outside and put them on top of the sinks and do not use anything in there correctly.” They added, “my first year before COVID was the most normal time for the bathrooms. In junior year everyone was just coming back from COVID and at the same time it was when a TikTok trend was going around and people started stealing mirrors, sinks, and doors from the stalls from the bathrooms in the basement.”

These problems have left staff wondering how they can fix this problem and get the bathrooms back to how they were. With the limited amount of staff at Malden High able to keep up with them it’s going to be harder than thought out to be.

Page added, “a lot of people are thinking about that question. From a really high level standpoint I think that we need to create an environment in the school where students feel more ownership over the school. A lot of teachers will say this but it sounds kind of silly but it’s true, you don't treat your bathroom the way a lot of people treat the bathrooms here and so I think what it represents is an underlying issue of students not feeling like this is their place, students not feeling a sense of pride in the school, a sense of belonging in the school.”

“Some have gone to using vape detectors and I have heard good and bad. Some schools say they are really effective, most schools say they are not. Some schools that have enough staff or staffing have assigned bathroom monitors to sign kids in and out. We just do not have the manpower to do that,” stated Mastrangelo. He continued, “what we do have is the manpower to get the teachers walking in the building so that is how we have addressed it here and that has made a difference in the hallways 100%.”

Table used by bathroom monitors, outside of a Boyle restroom.

With all of this students have also had their own ideas in how to fix these issues.

“I feel like if we were more worried in the classrooms of if the student needs to use the bathroom or not and gauge that but I feel like it is inevitable because students are bound to walk around. Hall monitors definitely help but I feel like the smartpasses do not really help,” Yu stated.

Sekhri added, “I do not think we necessarily need [SmartPasses] but I do wish there were more people keeping track of the bathrooms. I feel like mostly every bathroom should be open. I don't see why not, it would help students be back in class faster because we can get to class much easier if we can just go to the bathroom and come back.”

After everything that has happened MHS staff feel as though they have exercised every option they have and now need to become stricter in ways they did not want to. “We do not have the staff to put bathroom monitors in to track kids as they go in and they leave and I do not want to do that. You should have the freedom to go to the bathroom when you need to go to the bathroom,” Mastrangelo said.

Students and administration have different perspectives and opinions on this situation but there’s things to learn from both sides of the argument. They are both making impulsive decisions to each other's choices instead of listening to each side. To find the root and the cultural shift among students there needs to be communication and everyone’s voice in this problem.

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