School bathroom policies hardened amid upticks in bullying, risky behaviors

While school bathrooms have long been a hangout location for some students and at times the place students congregate to escape the watchful eyes of educators, the rise in risky, harassing, destructive, and sometimes fatal behaviors is causing some school systems to change policies of who gets to use the bathrooms and when.

Recent policies enacted around the country for middle and high school bathrooms attempt to deter vandalism, vaping, bullying and drug use.

One high school in New Hampshire implemented a one-student-per-class policy for bathroom use. Another school in New Jersey locked some bathrooms in order to better monitor their use, according to a news article from Jersey Shore Online. 

In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools, several incidents — including reports of a student’s nonfatal potential fentanyl overdose in a school bathroom — prompted new school bathroom policies, such as increased monitoring of bathrooms, open exterior bathroom doors in high schools and limited use of certain bathrooms during transition times. 

“Our restrooms must be safe places for students and cannot be places for activities that violate our code of conduct, such as drug and tobacco use,” said a Feb. 24 notice about campus safety and security by Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools.

Debate over accommodating transgender students who want to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity is also leading to more conversations — and litigation, legislation and complaints — focused on school bathrooms.

Some districts are looking at facilities changes and technology to deter bad behavior or to address conflicts about gender-specific bathrooms. Some locations, such as Hanover County Public Schools in Virginia and Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota, are building single occupancy and gender-neutral restrooms

Many other districts are investing in technology to detect vaping in bathrooms. Vape cartridges and pens being flushed down toilets have clogged pipes or damaged sewage pumps in some schools, according to local reporting. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also currently considering rules for the labeling and manufacturing of e-cigarettes after rising concerns about teen vaping.

In some schools, educators are involving students in seeking solutions to bathroom challenges. Two 12th grade students at Falmouth High School in Massachusetts, as part of their senior project, surveyed their peers about changing the school’s bathroom culture, according to reporting from The Enterprise news outlet. 

As a result, the school implemented new protocols for limiting bathroom occupancy. It also installed vape detectors, in addition to increasing anti-vaping education and supports to students.

One Florida high school designated certain bathrooms for 9th and 10th graders and others for 11th and 12th graders. With collaboration between administration and student government leaders, a competition was created between the two sets of grades to see which could keep their bathrooms most compliant, according to student reporting in the Los Angeles Times.

Several students quoted in the article said they believe the competition will keep bad behavior out of the bathrooms.

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