The bathroom breakdown: Lowell needs clean and functional restrooms

It’s a daily occurrence for Lowell students to go to the restroom only to find the stalls locked, covered with caution tape, and displaying “Out of Order” signs. But it shouldn’t be this way. California Education Code § 35292.5 states, “Every restroom shall at all times be maintained and cleaned regularly, fully operational and stocked at all times with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels or functional hand dryers.” Lowell must address the restroom conditions to ensure all students have access to a clean and functional restroom.

An alarming issue is the sheer number of restrooms that are out of service. On May 4, The Lowell conducted a survey of every student restroom and found that 10 of Lowell’s 75 student toilets (and two urinals) were completely out of order due to plumbing issues. That’s more than 13 percent. A Lowell custodian, who requested to remain anonymous, reported several defective stalls and urinals to SFUSD’s central maintenance several weeks ago and has yet to receive a response. Many restrooms also have dysfunctional features, including broken hand dryers, stall locks, and sinks. While these problems may seem minor, they often add up to render the restrooms unusable. Due to these broken utilities, finding a functional restroom can be challenging. Why the delays on repairs? According to assistant principal Jandro Alcantar, the district only has three to four plumbers for all school sites.

Additionally, the restrooms are generally unclean, which seems to have worsened recently. Walk into any bathroom, and you’re almost certain to see trash strewn on the floor and clogged sink drains. Seats that weren’t raised are covered in urine, making the toilets unusable. The second-floor girls’ restroom has an ant infestation that makes it unpleasant to use. What accounts for this lack of cleanliness? According to Alcantar, Lowell currently lacks sufficient janitorial staffing, with only two custodians on-site during the school day. However, he also stressed the important role students play in keeping the restrooms clean, asking them to “treat these restrooms as if they were at our homes.”

Behavior such as tagging and drug use also plagues Lowell’s restrooms. Many students are familiar with the smell of weed and vape smoke that collects in the gender-neutral restrooms. This causes many students to avoid these restrooms altogether.

These issues result in students choosing to avoid certain restrooms because of their smell, lack of cleanliness, or because they are simply too broken to use. Given the size of Lowell’s campus, avoiding the nearest restroom because of these issues and heading to one further away can result in tardiness or missing an extended period of class time, upsetting teachers and harming students’ educations. This is especially true for students who rely on gender-neutral restrooms, where the problem of drug use and vaping is most acute.

Lowell needs to fix its restrooms because they are a basic necessity. Students have a right to clean, safe, and functional restrooms.

Lowell needs to fix its restrooms because they are a basic necessity. Students have a right to clean, safe, and functional restrooms. There needs to be an easier way for students to report broken locks, empty paper towel dispensers, and maintenance issues in the restrooms. The district also needs to fix the ongoing plumbing issues that put toilets out of order for weeks or even months at a time. But students also have a part to play. They need to respect the facilities, their fellow classmates, and our custodians, who are ultimately left to deal with these messes.