What’s that smell? Of school bathrooms, hygiene and memorable speeches

A headline in today’s Burlington Times-News caught my eye. It was stripped across the front page and looks to be in about 70-point type. Not quite WAR DECLARED or NIXON GUILTY, but not that far off. Here’s what it said.

Board considers cleanliness

Not exactly “Stop the presses!” kind of material but still pretty interesting. It got my attention enough to read it. Here’s the lede by reporter Jessica Williams.

The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education is tired of seeing dirty bathrooms.

Direct, to the point, no mystery and most importantly no bad puns or lame jokes. Good work Jessica. Full disclosure? I’m a big Jessica Williams fan.

The upshot is pretty clear. Some of the bathrooms on ABSS campuses are pretty bad. This matter came up during a meeting of the ABSS Board of Education during discussion about whether to extend the current contract for custodial services to the end of a five-year agreement. Board members Tony Rose and Pam Thompson voted against it because, well, the bathrooms are nasty.

“I just don’t know what else I can do. These bathrooms in some of these schools – the homeless shelter looks better than this …,” Rose is quoted as saying during the meeting. “It’s just amazing to me when I hear kids say they wait until they get to the Career and Technical Center to use the restroom or they wait until they get home.”

While I would argue that bathrooms at the homeless shelter should rival any other public facilities, including those at schools, Tony’s point is very well made. He also had another good observation: Public toilets are clean in other places – and other schools – so why are some just awful. The problem isn’t one thing. It’s a lack of oversight at some schools, lack of pride among custodial staff in doing a job well at those schools and sometimes bad communication. All are mentioned in the Times-News story.

One thing not mentioned is student behavior. It should be. The bathrooms are rank in many cases because students leave them that way. Sloppy bathroom habits by students – and adults – isn’t a new issue at all. Kids have made disgusting messes for decades.

I still chuckle when I recall being a fourth-grader at Walnut Cove Primary School in 1968. One memorable day the principal, R.G. Thomas, had all the fourth-grade boys assembled in a classroom for a speech. This was highly unusual. You had to really mess up to even be addressed in passing by Mr. Thomas. This meeting was a major event. It was about … messy bathrooms. And being 9-year-old boys, we giggled our way through it. He ended this educational presentation with the only quote I can remember from any principal at any school I attended. In closing he said, “Be like dad, not like sis. Raise the lid before you piss.”

Big laughs.

smellFast forward to sometime in the late 1990s. I was working for the Daily News in Jacksonville, North Carolina at that time. My boss, editor and friend Elliott Potter agreed to help a class at Jacksonville Middle School produce its own newspaper. He enlisted my help. As we discussed how a newspaper is assembled, we asked each student what kind of story they thought should be covered at their school. A thin seventh-grade boy with long hair parted on the side and strands nearly covering one eye, raised his hand. “The bathrooms smell like piss,” he said with some pride.

Elliott was silent for just a beat before saying, “Well, hygiene is an important issue.”

Hygiene is still an important issue and now it’s one being monitored by ABSS leadership.  The system has 3.5 million square feet of campuses to maintain and now bathrooms will be a point of emphasis. It’ll take a lot of effort, though. Kids will still be kids.

3 thoughts on “What’s that smell? Of school bathrooms, hygiene and memorable speeches

  1. Where is the administrative staff at the individual schools? Have they filed a complaint with the superintendent or one of his designees? It should be incumbent for the school principal to make sure his/her school is fit and clean.


  2. Why has it taken so long? There should be some accountability by those in charge with penalties being extracted for lack of performance.


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