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Posted at 9:51 AM ET, 12/ 2/2009

School closes bathrooms because of security shortage

By Valerie Strauss

In the category of “it makes you wonder,” the student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High School reports that bathrooms on the second and third floors are now being locked during lunch.

Why? The school has a security shortage and couldn’t figure out a better way to deal with it.

The story, in says that the Alex Bae, president of the Student Government Association met with Principal Darryl Williams on Monday, and that the principal said he hopes the situation can be fixed soon.

Apparently, the story says, the bathrooms were closed during lunch because students abuse their bathroom privileges. Acts of vandalism occur during lunch and kids hide out in the bathroom to avoid going to class.

Without security to protect the bathrooms, officials decided to force the kids to either find other bathrooms or to exercise their bladders.

It should be noted that the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, the activist organization that tries to keep the school system on its toes, points out on its web page that the security chief ot the school system, Bob Hellmuth, said earlier this year that "it is so much cheaper to install cameras than it is to go hire additional security staff."

It might be cheaper but aren't security cameras easily broken?

I’m going to take a wild guess that most of the students at Montgomery Blair don’t vandalize the bathrooms. And I’m going to further suppose that there must be a better way of dealing with this security issue without locking the bathrooms.

Tell me if I’m wrong.

For more on Education, please see

By Valerie Strauss  | December 2, 2009; 9:51 AM ET
Categories:  High School, Montgomery County Public Schools  | Tags:  Montgomery Blair High School, Montgomery County Public Schools, high school  
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Are all the students eating lunch at the same time, or are there mutliple lunch periods (which would mean that students who have a class opposite a lunch period would have to wander the hallways to get to the bathroom if they got a pass to go during class, thus possibly creating more of a disturbance to the other classes in session, not to mention give plausible excuses for kids to wander the halls during lunch periods)?

Posted by: | December 2, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I don't want to say that you are wrong, but we have the same issue at my high school. It is really frustrating and expensive for staff to have to fix vandalized bathrooms on a weekly basis (which was what was happening at my school). If it is during lunch it is not that big of a deal to walk down to the first floor (especially since students are not supposed to be above the first floor in any case).

Posted by: Wyrm1 | December 2, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I am a student at Montgomery Blair and I think this policy is ridiculous. The biggest problem is that the bathrooms are often locked during the first two classes of the day. I don't know whether it's intentional or accidental but having to walk all the way from the 3rd floor to the 1st is annoying.

Second of all, we have two lunches. If someone wanted to skip class during a lunch period, they wouldn't hide in the bathroom, they'd just GO TO LUNCH.

As for vandalism, no more vandalism happens at lunch than at any other time. Locking bathrooms does not keep kids on-campus for lunch, or keep them from skipping. Mr. Williams needs to stop making new policies just for the sake of making them, which is something he's been doing ever since he got to Blair.

Posted by: sysmith | December 2, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Way back in 1995 when I was a high school freshman in Howard County, my school did the exact same thing. For us, I remember this applying in the 5 minute transition periods between classes. 1200 kids are supposed to use a handful of stalls in 5 minutes without being late to class - and this somehow REDUCES behavior problems or disruptions? I even circulated a petition against it and took it to the SGA, but those poor kids didn't know what to do with the signatures anyway, so no success. But glad to hear the students are speaking out and the newspaper is not being dismissive of their concerns. I don't envy the difficult and necessary work of teachers and administrators who have to deal with disciplinary and safety issues day in and day out, but we need some common sense here. First of all, there are some things we just don't deny other humans, period: reasonable access to bathroom facilities is one of them. And, really, if we don't want teenagers to act like they're either prisoners or six-year-olds, we shouldn't treat them like they are.

Posted by: katiebabe461 | December 2, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

The lack of trust creates more problems than it solves. Give kids a reason not to vandalize the school. Make dessert unavailable in the lunch room if any bathroom vandalism is discovered. Make the kids clean the bathrooms. Don't just give up a resource, that's stupid.

Posted by: staticvars | December 2, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

Hey everyone,
I'm a student at Montgomery Blair HS, and I have to say that the "security" measures at my school have been becoming ever more draconian. What's worse, these policies are being enforced half-heartedly at best. The security guards basically have a "checkpoint" of sorts where students must have a legitimate reason to pass through. Too bad the security guards are talking to other guards or on their cell phones! I can just walk by with nobody stopping me(I go to study hall...not to a bathroom to draw fake phone numbers all over the stalls).
Sure, I emphasize with the building services staff; I wouldn't want to clean up a mess in the bathroom every day. But when every bathroom with a door is locked simultaneously it's completely unfair.
Frankly, I think the only reason that these "security" measures are in place are because somebody in the security office is trying to overcompensate for not being an actual law enforcement officer.

Posted by: OccamHadAScalpel | December 2, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Used to be when there were problams with bathrooms vandalism, the principle selected kids to show up on Saturdays to fix and clean them up. He didn't always get the culprits, but soon all the kids realized they had a share in keeping the vandals down.
The solution isn't always throwing money, guards, locks at a problem!!!

Posted by: thornegp2626 | December 3, 2009 5:49 AM | Report abuse

Can we get anymore naieve? The story ends with " ... most of the students ..."--well that's the problem. One sets the fires setting off the alarms for the whole school, one vandalizes the cameras, one ... The problem is that one and not the 'most.' These are irresponsible kids not adults. Wake up.

Posted by: jsjmmurray | December 3, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I don't know the Montgomery county school students, but I can relate a story on DC school bathrooms. Back in early 2001, 2002 the system decided they would modernize almost all the bathrooms. I think they spent something on the order of $10M to redo them. The next summer I went through several of the recently renovated bathrooms. The partitions had been ripped out of their brackets, with giant dents from being kicked. Many fixtures were broken from vandalism. The ceilings were covered in toilet paper. Graffitti throughout, along with gouges in the walls and floor and wall tiles damaged. It was a shame, but in a building with perhaps a dozen bathrooms I can see how difficult it was for the staff and security to catch the vandals.

Posted by: will4567 | December 3, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Put a line of porta-potties in the yard and make the students use those.

Posted by: swmuva | December 3, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

When I went to high school, we had no security team. There was a vice-principle who was much like a pit-bull. Teachers were required to patrol the halls when they didn't have a class. Today's teachers and administrators in Mont. Co. run the schools by taking all freedoms away from students, instead of controlling the trouble students, they try to control everyone and everything. Maybe the students should just urinate in the hallways to protest this nonsense. I'm sure the person who came up with this asininity is not a person with much intellectual capacity or creativity. Stupid people tend to be attracted to work in the government schools, not sure why this is.

Posted by: nototresspassers | December 3, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

This isn't just unfair, it's a health issue. I thought we learned a long time ago that forcing people to "hold it" can cause long term damage. Are they even allowed to endanger student health like this?

Posted by: dkp01 | December 3, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I have been out of h.s. for 30 years but I frequently visit my kid's school. Maybe it's just me, but the behavior I see reminds me of what is shown in some of the Discovery channel prison shows. If the kids act like animals, they deserve what they get. As for bathrooms, start building them like those at highway rest stops - concrete walls and industrial stainless steel toilets. They're almost vandal proof...problem is, as soon as you vandal-proof something, they grow a better capability to vandalize.

Posted by: jralph | December 3, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

My daughter's high school had to close bathrooms because the plumbing is decrepit and in need of renovation. The sewer gas is so pungent, it is a health hazard to the students. Yes, this is a Fairfax County HS, but it in one of the poorest communities. The school was built as a middle school, not a high school. It has not been renovated in it's 40+ year history. Meanwhile, high schools 5 miles away are being renovated--again. Why isn't this situation newsworthy? Or right, it's not in an elite school with a bunch of white kids.

Posted by: EditorMom | December 3, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

It's shocking to hear so-called educators say that they need more guards at their schools. [I assume that's what they mean when they use the Orwellian phrase "security shortage."]

US school culture is coming to resemble US prison culture.

Posted by: DupontJay | December 3, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Security cameras are not really "easily broken"; they are installed in the ceiling tiles and enclosed in glass domes. Unless a person put on a mask before damaging the camera, they would be easily identified if they tried to vandalize it.

Posted by: hilaryg | December 3, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I moved from D.C. to Houston, two decades ago. My kids went to a high school in a small town outside of Houston (think Burtonsville or Manassas in the 70's)

When I picked my kid up for doctor's appointments, etc. - there were teachers in all of the hallways, questioning each kid as to why they were not in class...seemed to work quite well

Posted by: JohnDinHouston | December 3, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The answer is easy- also close the faculty restrooms and faculty lounges during lunch. Make the principal and teachers use the same restroom as the students do, and the problem will resolve itself.

Not to mention the student's bladders that will close off entirely when the vice-principal struts in next to them.

Tell the teachers it will save some money.

Posted by: LeeH1 | December 3, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"It's shocking to hear so-called educators say that they need more guards at their schools. [I assume that's what they mean when they use the Orwellian phrase "security shortage."]

US school culture is coming to resemble US prison culture."

Um, he's not the only one who's made this observation. A documentary filmmaker has come out with a film that explores this idea.

Posted by: SwitchedOnMom | December 3, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse


I graduated from Mount Vernon 30 years ago. Is that the school you're speaking of?

Posted by: lsiworley | December 3, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

lsiworley, No, I was speaking of Falls Church. However, MV is an equal candidate.

Posted by: EditorMom | December 3, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who thinks there is a simple fix to this situation is misinformed. I think the school is to be applauded to refusing to let the situation deteriorate further. Your headline is misleading: they are closing only some restrooms for two periods. I teach in a middle school in Florida, and no one who hasn't worked in a school recently can understand how hard it is to be fair and effective in this kind of situation.

Posted by: pittypatt | December 3, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

It appears that administrators and adult commenters on this blog consider high school students to be contemptible---maybe that's why high school students act contemptibly?

Yes, vandals are a problem but I would submit any student that kicks down stalls and TPs the ceiling during breaks has more problems then just the violence they demonstrate in the bathroom---it should be evident in the classroom too. Or are teachers now like parents, it's not their problem? It's "security's" problem....right.

If high school administration thinks this is a problem with students they need to exam what they think education is; commenters here are right, it's a prison education (how to get around and beat the system).

Posted by: mil1 | December 3, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I wonder what, if any, role parents could play in solving this kind of problem?

Posted by: Cfhoag | December 3, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

During my school days in the 1950s and 60's, no one would DARE vandalize anything in our schools. Our parents and teachers taught us to respect other peoples' property. This included our schools.

The problem is with the parents.

Posted by: Rich393 | December 3, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The bathrooms are only supposed to be locked during our lunch periods, but there are still students in class who need to use a bathroom. Furthermore, the bathrooms remain locked, out of neglect I do not know. The fact is, after lunch, students are still hard-pressed to find an open bathroom. And, if you would like an official count of the bathrooms closed, it's not a few. 75% (by my personal experiences) of the bathrooms in our school are closed at any one time; the only reason it isn't 100% is because the other two bathrooms don't have doors.

Posted by: OccamHadAScalpel | December 3, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Cfhoag wrote:
"I wonder what, if any, role parents could play in solving this kind of problem?"

Of course, ideally the parents' role would be to raise kids that don't vandalize things. But since we don't live in that world, and since another kids' acts of vandalism keep your child from having access to a bathroom...

Why not have parent volunteers monitor the bathrooms? Surely most parents could give one day per school year. Wouldn't that provide more than enough adults to put one in each bathroom every day?

Posted by: highschoolteacher | December 3, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

That should read "...another kid's...." Sorry.

Posted by: highschoolteacher | December 3, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

I attend MBHS and, I have to admitt, it is annoying. And the extent of the "vandalism" is all the writing of the stall walls, but what school doesn't have that? Also, point to administration if a student is skipping 5 a/b, they would not be spending of in a bathrom on the third floor.

Posted by: nemo4life | December 3, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

I am a Blair senior this year, and this issue is bigger than what the Post is showing. Not only do they lock the bathrooms during 5A and 5B lunch, but them KEEP them locked. The rest of the day. Yesterday I was on the second floor and the closest bathroom to me was in the theater. Really Blair? That just takes away from learning time and makes students more frustrated and likely to graffiti, or whatever the supposed problem is.
And to get to the bathrooms from a classroom during 5A or 5B you have to go downstairs, then go back through security to get back to class!
What's the point of a bathroom if nobody can use them? What's the point of keeping them clean if nobody can see them or use them?

And editormom, Blair is NOT an "elite school with a bunch of white kids."
Yes, we do have an incredible number of high-powered students at our school, and yes we have probably 900 white people at our school. But that's only 30% of the school! Blair gets this coverage because these annoying and unnecessary policies are constantly being used, (see ID policy, you probably heard about that one)

Posted by: natehuki91 | December 3, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

I go to blair, for one, the bathrooms aren't only locked during lunch, they remained locked throughout the day. A few days ago, I had to try to go into 7 (im not overexagerating) bathrooms before I found an open one. Even teachers at Blair agree that the school should not be locking the bathrooms.

Posted by: qwerty13 | December 3, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

You are wrong. Fairfax County's schools have the same problems. There are not enough security staff to be wherever the administrators want them. Every administrator, and there are many, has his or her own idea about security staff placement. The specialist and assistants have the best ideas but they aren't heeded.

By pushing the students to a limited number of bathrooms, it is easier to control access. I would rather have these bathrooms closed rather than see the destruction after one school day. My tax money is paying for this wanton destruction.

Until these over-privileged and unsupervised little snots in middle and high schools are subject to some discipline at home, the vandalism will continue, unabated.

Maybe it is time to change the rules. Students should only be guaranteed a public education if the follow the rules. After three strikes of any type, let mommy and daddy pay for private school.

Posted by: mortified469 | December 3, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse


Having trouble with English in school?

Posted by: mortified469 | December 3, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

It's always interesting to me when people say "there must be a better way," but they don't say what that better way is. That comment does not contribute to the discussion.

Posted by: dcpsinsider | December 3, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

OK, here's a better way. If vandalism is a problem, establish a community project where all kids go out and repair vandalism in the school/neighborhood. Or have student work details responsible for cleaning the building, to foster pride and a sense of ownership. Or teach kids about the adverse social effects of vandalism, and the value of social capital. Or basically do *anything* to TEACH kids lessons in responsibility and turn them into the kind of people who don't vandalize stuff.

Adding more prison guards to the school doesn't teach kids any lessons we want them to learn. There's no guard standing next to me, or my property, when these ill-taught students are loosed on society.

Posted by: DupontJay | December 3, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

This is nothing new. When I went to Kennedy from '99 to '03, security locked half the bathrooms to prevent vandalism. Blair has a very high quality student newspaper, which is respected outside of the school. I credit that with their getting this publicized.

Posted by: theGelf | December 3, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Forget the bathrooms! Read the comments by Montgomery Blair High School students. HIRE more English Teachers!

Posted by: motherseton | December 4, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Has anybody looked at the school building being built and compared them to the ones built in the 1930s? I actually got off the highway and backtracked to see what correctional facility had been built in a certain area--it was the new high school!
And our local high school actually had a policy that anyone who played on the community soccer team in one season was ineligible for the school soccer team in that or any other season!

Why should students act like responsible members of the community when they are locked away in medium security institutions during the day and told to have nothing to do with the community?

Posted by: opinionatedreader | December 4, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Despite state, local, and board codes, regulations, and policies, that in effect prohibit students from repairing vandalized bathrooms, I wouldn't be surprised if some administrator in some high school has already forced a student or students to "fix" bathrooms. Silverchips go get them.

Posted by: motherseton | December 4, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

As a Montgomery Blair student, I feel the need to set some things straight.

First, the idea that locking bathrooms will prevent skipping is absurd. Period 5, when the bathrooms are locked, is divided into two halves. Half the school eats 5a, the other half goes to class. Then they switch. If you want to skip your period 5 class, you simply go to the cafeteria and hang out, not sulk in the bathrooms.

Second, many of the posters here appear to be under the impression that this was in response to a wave of vandalism. This is absolutely untrue. Vandalism is, as it has always been (in my 3 years here) somewhat common, but restricted to drawing on the stall walls or flushing toilet paper. While annoying and somewhat disruptive, it is not a major problem, nor is it new.

Third, bathrooms have never been guarded, nor are they now. Keeping all bathrooms open therefore requires no extra security staff.

Aside from its uselessness as a security measure, there are several other problems with this policy.

Many students use the bathroom between lunch and class. When bathrooms are closed, either several hundred students must compete for one bathroom, or be forced to use the bathroom during class time instead.

The two bathrooms that remain open receive much heavier traffic than they do at normal usage, making them terribly unsanitary.

Finally, the six other bathrooms often remain locked after period 5 has ended, disrupting class as students are forced to hunt down the unlocked bathrooms. I have yet to meet a teacher in favor of this policy for this reason alone.

As a side note, I find it very rude for someone to characterize an entire population of 2800 people they obviously know nothing about as “over-privileged and unsupervised little snots”, committing “wanton destruction” that does not in fact exist.

--Roger C.

Posted by: tpcurley3000 | December 8, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

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