In a word, Lodi High freshman Aimee Hocking, 14, describes her school's restrooms as "disgusting."
Nasir Khan, 17, a senior, used the same word for the boys' rooms.
Lodi High administrators and staff said they know some restrooms become "trashed" through the course of a day. They say it's a problem from a careless few who don't pick up after themselves, and add that schools often lack the resources to clean up after each passing period and lunch break.
Students complain there's no paper towels, toilet paper, seat covers or soap. They also complain of urine puddles, tampons and sanitary pads on the floors, overflowing trash cans, and graffiti. But if students are the ones doing much of the complaining, school staff point their fingers at students as being the problem.
"Usually I flush with my foot because (the toilets) are so disgusting. And sometimes I don't flush, because I don't know what the guy before did, I don't know what's on there," Khan said.
Custodians sanitize toilets, urinals and sinks in each of Lodi High's 16 restrooms. They mop the floors. They restock supplies. The work takes an eight-hour shift, from 2 to 10:30 p.m.
Physical plant supervisor Richard Chandler said each restroom is clean and tidy when the campus opens at 7 each morning. By 9:13 a.m. - the first passing period before the day's mandatory 20 minutes of silent, sustained reading - many of the restrooms have already been trashed.
"One of our largest problems is we're understaffed to keep them serviced all day long," he said.
After lunch last Monday, he and Jerry Blackwell, a campus worker, were sweeping litter into the dozen or so trash cans lining the courtyard. He said the litter was a sign that some students don't respect their school.
"If the kids took more pride in it, more respect, you wouldn't have the waste of toilet paper, the plugged toilets, and we wouldn't have to take the manpower away from something else that needed it," Chandler said.
This apparent lack of social graces is also a concern for vice principal Bob Lofsted.
Many of Lodi High's 2,250 students are keeping things clean, but untidy restrooms are an "age-old problem." It was the same at Tokay High, where he worked as assistant principal until 2002.
"These kids do not trash their houses at lunchtime the way they treat our courtyard and bathrooms," Lofsted said.
Products used at home like Clorox, Ajax and Lysol are commonly associated with a "clean smell" but they can't be used in schools, Lofsted said. Custodians use Butcher's Products because of state laws that prohibit products with harsh fumes and those which could have hazardous chemical interactions.
Lofsted said the school couldn't use cameras to see who's trashing bathrooms, and they don't have the manpower for restroom monitors.
Chandler said that five years ago, staffing cutbacks took away a day-shift groundskeeper and custodian from each high school. They do the best they can to keep up, but thousands of students use the restrooms throughout the day.
"I don't think it's the custodians' fault; I think it's the students throwing paper towels on the floor. What can the custodian do about that?" said Vinnie Teresi, 17, a senior.
Lofsted acknowledged that when something is older it gives a feeling of being "rundown and decrepit." About 15 years ago some restrooms were renovated. Automatic flushers, larger stalls, or more modern surfaces to protect from stains and graffiti, could help.
But until Lodi High comes up in the queue, Lofsted said, they'll all have to make do with what they've got.The school district's five-year plan for school modernizations includes the 50-year-old Lodi High restrooms. Funds from the Measure K bond would be used, and some work could start this summer.
Cleanliness in public restroomsDr. Karen Furst, San Joaquin County Public Health officer, said the biggest health issue with public restrooms is people leaving without washing their hands, and spreading germs.
Disease can be spread if the person with unwashed hands then prepares food or touches another person or inanimate objects.
Preventing the spread of germs: Use toilet seat covers if they are provided, to protect from urine or other matter. Try not to touch paper towels, sanitary pads or tampons that have fallen on the floor. Always wash hands after using the restroom.
Diseases of concern: Salmonella, hepatitis A, shigella and E. coli - these gastrointestinal illnesses can cause nausea, diarrhea or stomach cramps.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control; San Joaquin Public Health.
First published: Monday, December 11, 2006