The Last Day Before the First Day Is Too Late

Students regularly come to school on Mondays following a weekend, or Tuesdays after a national holiday, or any day of the week when a winter, spring, or summer vacation ends. We concentrate on the first day of school with fervor, programs, and excitement.

We need to concentrate on the last day before students return. In contrast to John Denver’s refrain that “today is the first day of the rest of my life,” it is the last day, before the first day, which is critical to student restrooms.

Consider a personal experience I observed near Atlanta (however I have seen similar conditions from California to Delaware, in Huntsville (AL) and Pittsburgh).

I saw the following at noon on the Friday before a Monday opening in a summer school program with about 445 diverse ninth through 12th graders. There were sinks on the floor and lavatories askew from the wall or hanging wobbly from weak supports. Both erotic and gang graffiti splattered the walls. Each set of restrooms for men had doors, toilet paper, and dispensers missing, and the rooms for women had sanitary product receptacles without bags and trash cans still half full.

Maybe the staff planned to fix these eight restrooms on Saturday, which would have required approval of overtime. Maybe.

The only description of those restrooms that Friday was “despicable.” By Monday most of the gray walls were repainted, and the sinks either remounted or fresh silicon chalk applied. Receptacles were still bag less, yet trash cans were empty.

The point is a simple one. Long before the Friday before the students came to summer school — the last day before the first day, if you will — the restrooms should have been checked, cleaned, painted, and repaired.

Too often during summer, which historically was the time frame for emptying classrooms, stripping floors, and replacing furniture, custodians frequently wait to sevice restrooms using the excuse that students aren’t around.

Building administrators are often besieged with scheduling, malfunctioning heating and air conditioning, student arrests, and media pressure on higher test scores. Nevertheless, some things are quite straight forward. Restrooms can’t be effectively prepared at the last minute.

The admonition is equally simple. Clean restrooms immediately after students leave, and make them secure until the day students return. Do not leave major work on restrooms as almost an afterthought the last day before the first day kids walk in the doors.

On at least the last day before the first day, restrooms should be reviewed and a detailed checklist — a punch list if you will — should be completed by the supervisor of the custodial crew and, hopefully, the administrator responsible for the facility. The repairs and cleaning should have been done much earlier.

Another Example

In a middle school with eight sets of restrooms, the person responsible for nutrition and custodial functions accompanied me on the last day before an extended winter holiday. She kept copious notes, and observed broken mirrors, bent towel and missing toilet dispensers, as well as disgraceful rhymes or phrases. Maybe her confronting the custodial staff was not acceptable, yet neither was the graffiti which had been up since the “last day students were here” in December.

After our first review, this same administrator made it her policy to check the restrooms each time there was a school holiday, and many times just after weekends. Any district or building staff can initiate a practical schedule for reviewing restrooms whether they supervise elementary, middle, or secondary schools.

This practice of cleaning and repairing restrooms as soon as students leave includes the obvious, yet frequently ignored, act of flushing all toilets. Following weekends, extended four-day holidays, winter/spring, or summer vacations, it is a truism that the restrooms should be checked before students arrive.

All stalls should be stocked, all fixtures properly functioning, all leaks and repairs completed, and all graffiti removed or scratchitti covered.

Restrooms are not an afterthought. Since all students have to breathe, eat, sleep, and eliminate, school restrooms relate to a critical, daily, bodily function.

John Denver’s song may have the singer wanting to put on faces because he realizes he still has time to live. We should help all students have a healthy face and constitution and this is done long before that last day before the first day.

Dr. Tom Keating has been involved in education for more than for 34 years, serving as a school board member, college instructor, teacher, and school district lobbyist. He is also a published author and the founder of Project CLEAN. He can be reached at www.project-clean.com.

About the Author

Tom Keating, Ph.D., has advocated for improved restrooms for students since 1994. He is coordinator of Project CLEAN and founder of the Center for Sanitation and Citizenship. He can be reached at 404/694-2905 or keating.projectclean@gmail.com. The "Publications" and "Video" links at www.projectclean.us have numerous articles and materials on restroom issues. One article, "We Need to See the Third 'E'" is also about wellness.

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