By Emmer Rice, Jada Love, and Taliyah Cooper
You’re sitting in your AP English class and you’ve been discussing Hamlet for what feels like hours. You finally break and decide to spend the rest of class in the bathroom.
But when you get to the door, you’re greeted with something worse than Hamlet’s weird obsession with his mom. Is that a broken egg? Where are the ceiling tiles? And how are you supposed to wash your hands with no soap and no water? So you turn around and leave someone else to deal with it.
A New Low
George Pettiford has cleaned a lot of bathrooms, but he’s never seen any as bad as Riverside’s.
“Not this bad…this is the worst,” says Pettiford, Riverside’s former supervisor of maintenance.
Pettiford, who left Riverside for a similar position in Orange County last month, started doing maintenance work in 2013 and joined Riverside’s janitorial team during the 2018-19 school year. He doesn’t remember the bathrooms being an issue before the pandemic, but when students returned this fall for full-time, in-person instruction, it got much worse.
“Broken sinks, a lot of soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers being damaged,” he said. “And it is [my] job to fix it.”
As the supervisor of maintenance, Pettiford assigned each member of his staff different areas to work on. His own role was to check around the building and campus to make sure everything looks good. He checks lights, ceiling tiles, and fire extinguishers. Every day he cleaned the campus, fields, and took out almost 100 trash cans.
Keeping the school clean is a full-time job by itself, but Riverside’s staff now spend more time cleaning up after students that are vandalizing the schools bathrooms, too. This is a huge burden for Pettiford and his staff because it adds an extra load of work for them.
“The time demands are getting back to normal,” he said.
Pettiford said cleaning and repairing the bathrooms gets expensive, too. Though the district covers some of the replacement parts, the janitorial team’s already tight budget doesn’t have funds to buy extra supplies.
“Getting parts to fix things is not cheap,” he said.
And when things break, it can take a while to order the parts they need to replace broken sinks, smashed mirrors and damaged paper towel dispensers.
As the school’s janitorial staff continues to fix broken sinks, smashed mirrors, missing ceiling panels and knocked down paper towel holders, Pettiford thinks the rapid decline in the cleanliness of Riverside’s bathrooms is because of a change in student behavior.
“I would say the capacity of students is a huge [factor] of why the bathrooms are the way they are,” said Pettiford, “There are a lot more freshmen this year, which may be a part of the problem.”
In 2019, Riverside’s enrollment was 1,724 students, 524 of whom were freshmen. In 2022, the enrollment is 1,835 with over 700 freshmen.
The Same Old Problem
“How do you break a sink? Apparently not by turning it on, because washing your hands in a Riverside bathroom is virtually impossible, since there is no soap.”
That’s what Kelvin Allen and Katelyn Johnson had to say about the Riverside’s bathrooms. However, they didn’t say it last month, last semester, or even last year. Allen and Johnson said it in a Pirates’ Hook issue 17 years ago.
Little seems to have changed since 2005.
“[Riverside’s] bathrooms are nasty,” said current sophomore Nesiya Smith. “They got tissue all over the floor, dumb writing on the walls, leaving pad wrappings on the floor.”
“Personally I feel like we can do better,” said freshman Arianna Harrison. “We’re handling ourselves like we’re middle schoolers. Since we’re high schoolers, we need to be more responsible.”
“I’ve never seen anything worse, and honestly it makes me want to wear diapers to school,” said senior Kyle Fitzpatrick. “Students need to learn to have respect for the school that they go to and leave the bathroom as a bathroom and not a playground.”
According to research conducted by The Pirates’ Hook in March and April, bathrooms are hit or miss. In some bathrooms, every sink works, and in others, none do.
While over 95 percent of toilets and urinals work, sinks are considerably less functional. Only 73 percent of the sinks in the men’s bathrooms and 67 percent in the women’s bathrooms are fully functional. Essentially, students play a guessing game every time they pick up a bathroom pass.
Paper towel dispensers have also fallen victim to the Riverside student body – they’re often seen on the floor. It can take days or weeks for the replacement parts to arrive.
There’s even an Instagram page dedicated to the state of Riverside’s bathrooms. Posts include broken stall doors, videos of students joking in the bathrooms, to an unflushed toilet. With comments ranging from “This is so sad” to “I just vomited from having to look at that,” the page is less of a critique on the bathrooms and more of a platform to make fun of the chaos.
Effects on Students, Teachers and Learning
The current state of the bathrooms is not just an issue for students. Faculty and staff members use them, too, and they’re disgusted and concerned.
“Individually, everyone needs to be conscious of when they’re using the restroom and not leaving it in a mess,” said social worker Kisha Bardonille. “Don’t be nasty, because someone else is coming behind you and we all want to use the bathroom and not be disgusted.”
In previous years, teachers have noticed the same issues have been noticed and seen little change.
“I avoid using the bathrooms at all costs because when I was a student it was just as terrible,” says social studies teacher Anna Allman, who graduated from Riverside in 2014. “The school is not built to withstand what students think is just playing around.”
Students feel that solutions could be made by just talking to staff and administrators about the problem.
“We’ve gotten things fixed [in the past] by just talking about it.” said junior Alex Penn.
Social studies teacher Gabbrielle Minnick thinks the bathrooms are a symptom of a much bigger problem. “I don’t necessarily think it’s the administration, I think that we as a school need to talk about treating our surroundings nicely,” says Minnick, who is also a former Riverside student. “It’s not just the bathrooms, it’s everywhere.”
Money also plays a part.
“When we’re talking about funding for public schools it’s not just about teacher salaries,” said social studies teacher Sarah Cade. “Most children are learning in decrepit schools.”
With over 1800 students but less than 150 adults on campus, the janitorial staff or administrative team can’t fix the mess themselves. Assistant principal Will Okun says students have to be more conscientious.
“When the toilet paper is not in the toilet, to me that’s on purpose,” he said. “I think students need to be more accountable and treat the bathrooms the way they want them to look.”
Even if teenagers are naturally messy, clean bathrooms are still possible.
“Our bathrooms were lovely,” says Riverside’s social worker, Kisha Bardonille, while talking about the high school she went to in Washington DC.
Some teachers are taking matters into their own hands by making their students think of solutions for this problem. Architectural engineering teacher David Robinson assigned his students to make a plan about how the bathrooms could be fixed. Each student made a model of the new bathroom and explained why and how their idea could make a change.
More has to be done, but for now we as a student body need to do all we can to make this issue more manageable.