Graphs of the data taken by the APES class (Photo: Courtesy of Grace Darrow)
by Rose Cromwell, staff writer
Maria Carrillo High School student bathrooms have been something of an enigma on campus for quite some time, with devious licks and vandalism, lots of drug use and students going in for a variety of reasons not related to using the restrooms including warming up at the hand warmers during the winter months or just to taking a break and finding solace from the hectic school day.
The latest news about the bathrooms came from a student in the AP Environmental Science Class, Carrillo senior Grace Darrow. On March 1, the class took Medtronic AirBeam devices around campus to measure the air quality at various locations as a part of the air and water pollution unit. When they sampled in the boy’s bathroom in F hall, the air quality there was measured at over 100 micrograms of PM2.5 particles per cubic meter, a level hazardous for anyone to breathe. Sampling in the girls bathroom in F hall hit 52 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter which can be hazardous for those with breathing difficulties and conditions like asthma.
To clarify, PM2.5 particles are the size of smoke and their size is directly linked to their ability to cause harm. These particles can get into your lungs, and even your bloodstream, exacerbating respiratory issues like asthma and potentially constricting arteries, which can put anyone at risk of a heart attack. Exposure to these particles is harmful, plain and simple.
The poor air quality issue is also compounded by the fact that during classes, there are only two sets of bathrooms open for all students, one in the F hall and one in the I hall. The gym bathrooms are only opened on request during lunch, and the locker room bathrooms are only accessible for PE and dance students. While there are some one-off bathrooms like the ones in the office and drama hall, most students will find themselves having to use the bathrooms in the F and I halls. Anyone deciding to vape or use dab pens, or even light up marijuana in the bathrooms is not just harming their own lungs for that, but they’re harming other students who have to use the same bathrooms.
Junior Ellie Acosta said in response to vaping in the bathrooms that she “avoids the bathrooms on purpose because of it.” She’s even attested to having once had a vape cloud blown in her face saying, “It wasn’t on purpose, [but it is still annoying]!” Sophomore Finn Brophy said that he also avoided using the bathrooms because it was just easier, while junior Andrew Morris said that he’s “learned to live with it [vaping].” Morris said he’s accepted the issues the bathrooms have at this school and, while it would be nice if people weren’t doing drugs in there, the bathrooms are still usable. I feel the same as Andrew, but I only use the restrooms when I have to, and if there’s any kind of crowd near one of them I will keep on walking to the next.
The issues surrounding drug use do not arise from a lack of administrative action though. According to Assistant Principal Albert Ettedgui, there are three female and three male supervisors, and they check through the bathrooms every time they leave their office for other business. He cited a variety of ways in which they combat the issue, catching many people in the act and finding stashes of vapes.
Ettedgui expressed disappointment, saying, “It’s not acceptable, and I’m sorry to the students who just want to use the bathroom during class or during lunch because they’re working so diligently.” He also noted that the school’s ability to combat this issue has been compromised, with money from the Tobacco Use Prevention Education Program having run out. School administration had used this money to hire another supervisor for the campus to specifically combat vaping on campus. There was also at one point a proposal for devices that could detect air pressure changes when people were vaping, but Ettedgui said the technology was subpar and the price was far too high to justify the purchase. Ettedgui ended by talking about the variety of reasons students use the restrooms that are unrelated to drug use, such as the aforementioned warming by the hand warmers and relaxing. He asked, “Would you tolerate being busted and having us come into the bathrooms and forcing you out just based on suspicion, like ‘Hey! You’re not just peeing or pooping! Get out!’?”
I really struggle to think of a solution because we seem to be stuck between money problems, poorer bathroom conditions, vandalism that keeps us in a constant cycle of bathroom repairs and high school students’ endless ability to find a way to use drugs. Technology hasn’t caught up to where we need it, and it feels like we’re cutting off one head of the hydra just to watch two more sprout in its place. Darrow suggested installing air purifiers or placing the ones we already use in classrooms within bathrooms, although knowing high school students’ penchant for breaking things, I don’t foresee these staying put/working for too long. I also don’t foresee any school being able to completely stop students from vaping or using drugs, schools have tried for years, and while they have been able to mitigate the problem to a certain degree, as is clearly displayed by these findings they haven’t eradicated the problem and they likely never will. The way I see it, for the time we’re here, the bathrooms are manageable. Using the ones in the front office is always an alternative option.
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