Even as it faces a multimillion-dollar financial crisis and scrambles to meet new federal education requirements, the nation’s second largest district is taking on a new challenge: restroom reform.
The Los Angeles Unified School District’s $21 million plan aims to provide a long-term solution to its neglected, vandalized, and dirty high school and middle school restrooms. The clean-restroom initiative, which Superintendent Roy Romer unveiled at a Feb. 12 press conference, calls for $10 million to be spent in the next year to renovate or repaint roughly 3,000 student restrooms.
An additional $11 million will be spent to hire more custodians and restroom attendants. The new staff members will be assigned to every middle school and high school to oversee, restock, and clean the restrooms. They also will help discourage any further student vandalism of restrooms.
“Students must have access to clean and operable bathrooms on campus,” Mr. Romer said in a statement. “But we are also asking students to take ownership of their schools and to help us prevent the vandalism that so often destroys student restrooms.”
The plan asks students, parents, and employees of the 737,000-student district to report needed repairs to a new clean-restroom hotline. Student leaders will be drafted to help keep restrooms clean.
A set schedule has been established to ensure all bathrooms are cleaned thoroughly overnight. Restrooms also will be restocked with soap and paper supplies three times each day.
The district’s hopes for transforming its toilets follows a January report on television station KCBS about the condition of public school restrooms. The three-month special investigation included visits to more than 50 Southern California public schools, including many in Los Angeles.
That report, according to the Los Angeles-based television station’s Web site, found that some restrooms had no toilet paper, soap, or paper towels. Some restrooms were locked, while the floors of others were wet with feces and urine.
Less than two weeks after the story aired, Mr. Romer announced his plans to make sure students have clean and functioning restrooms. In tackling the problem, the district is trying to address an issue that has plagued school districts nationwide. (“Bathroom Blues,” Feb. 12, 2003.)
But Hilda Ramirez, a district spokeswoman, said the school system had been working on a new program to address restroom needs since late last year. She said the news report made implementation of the program more urgent.
Regardless of how much progress is made in the district’s restroom makeover, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has asked the county’s department of health services to draw up a policy for inspecting public school restrooms.
The California health and safety code does not currently address standards for school restrooms. Mr. Antonovich also plans to ask state lawmakers to draft and support new legislation on the issue.
“It is irresponsible and reckless to deny restrooms to students or to maintain them as Third World facilities,” Mr. Antonovich said. “We cannot expect [students] to learn and excel with these types of deplorable conditions.”
California legislators do plan to weigh in on the school restroom debate. State Sen. Martha Escutia, a Democrat, is working on legislation that would set and enforce standards for maintenance and repair of public school restrooms.
Carrie Marovich, the senator’s legislative consultant on education, said because the state is facing steep budget cuts, the challenge is to craft the bill without tapping state resources. Still, she said, Sen. Escutia hopes to get the restroom bill passed during this legislative session.