Published Online: October 8, 1997

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Fussing over bathrooms

Principal Robert Janovsky had never heard any complaints about the six doorless bathrooms in his school--not from any of the 870 students, not from their parents.

But that didn't keep the lavatories in Corkran Middle School from becoming a cause celebre in The Sun newspaper of Baltimore after a reporter uncovered a 6th grader who said she didn't like them.

"Opening the bathrooms to the school hallways has to be among the more psychologically humiliating and insensitive policies a school could adopt," fumed an editorial in the newspaper last month.

The Sept. 25 story that sparked the editorial referred to parents as being "outraged" over the bathrooms, but like the principal, the president of the school's PTA, Elaine Sangkavasi, said last week she has yet to hear from any angry parents. "Personally," Ms. Sangkavasi added, "I don't think there's a problem."

Lavatories in the Anne Arundel Co., Md., school are configured so that, even with the doors removed, all someone can see walking down the hall is a tile wall in an entryway--much like doorless bathrooms in stadiums and airports. One of Mr. Janovsky's predecessors had the outside doors removed about four years ago to make it easier to monitor behavior in the washrooms, and that's the way they were when Mr. Janovsky took over as principal a year ago.

Much of the newspaper story seems based on misunderstanding. One of the two parents quoted in it said she had been misrepresented because, while it's true her 6th grade daughter doesn't like the idea of older students seeing her adjust her clothing as she leaves the school bathroom, the parent never thought the lack of doors was a big deal, according to Ms. Sangkavasi. Since the story and the editorial appeared, the parent is refusing to take calls from reporters, Ms. Sangkavasi said.

Lynn Wallich, the assistant executive director of the National Middle School Association in Columbus, Ohio, was quoted in the story as objecting to the bathrooms, but she said last week that she thought at the time that it was possible to see into the stall area of the lavatories and that the principal had refused parents' request to put the doors back on.

The reporter for The Sun could not be reached for comment.

For his part, Principal Janovsky is wondering how things got so out of hand. "It was a nonissue to begin with," he said, "and it's a nonissue now."

--BESS KELLER

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