A Kiski Area High School student started an online petition this month calling for all the school’s bathrooms to be open, all of the time.
As the petition gathered more signatures, Principal Chad Roland called in the student this week to explain why the school began rotating bathroom closures, starting toward the end of last school year.
“It’s natural for students to be frustrated by things they don’t understand,” Roland said.
In short, he said, “restrooms are a prime-time spot for trouble” — mainly vaping and vandalism. And since Kiski Area started the policy, there has been a reduction in both problems.
The petition was the first objection Roland has heard about the policy at the school that serves 1,200 students, and it was not submitted to the district in any official capacity.
Still, Roland saw the encounter as a chance to clarify the school’s policy, adding, “I don’t pass judgment on anyone’s actions on social media.”
Restroom closures switch
Roland said there are 16 student bathrooms at the high school. Ten of those are open during classes, in buildings 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500.
The bathrooms outside the upper and lower cafeterias are closed during that time, as no students are assigned to the cafeteria. Students are permitted to leave class to use the bathroom if they are issued a hall pass by a teacher.
During “Lunch and Learn” — a daily one-hour period during which students meet with teachers, visit the library or participate in intramurals in the gym — it’s the reverse. The restrooms outside each cafeteria and the gym are open.
Roland said bathroom usage is monitored. He said lines or overcrowding in restrooms are not a problem.
“The reason we rotate the bathrooms is so we can better monitor the restrooms. We’ve had issues, just as every other high school in the world, with vaping and vandalism,” Roland said.
Having some of the restrooms closed at certain times maximizes the opportunity to use school employees, including teachers, administrators, school resource officers and custodians, to supervise and monitor student behavior there.
Examples of vandalism at Kiski Area High include writing and painting on the walls and throwing things, such as wet toilet paper, onto the walls.
Roland described the ongoing vandalism and vaping issue in bathrooms as “significant.” Issues include students congregating in restrooms and involving themselves in things that are inappropriate for school.
Significant drop in incidents
“It has resulted in a drastic reduction of inappropriate behaviors in our restrooms across the building,” said Roland, noting another benefit is custodians are able to ensure bathrooms are clean and ready for use throughout the school day.
According to 2019 data from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, 1 in 4 high school students in Pennsylvania used an e-cigarette, or vaped, in the past 30 days.
Roland said student vaping incidents in bathrooms have decreased from 51 violations during the 2018-19 school year to 16 this school year.
Surveillance cameras are not located in bathrooms on campus.
“That’s why bathrooms are a very challenging hot spot in high schools,” Roland said. “We want to keep kids safe.”
Roland said vaping is illegal on campus. Students caught vaping have their vape pen tested by a resource officer for the substance within, whether it’s nicotine derived from tobacco or THC from marijuana.
If the marijuana substance is found in the vape pen, the student is charged with a drug violation through the Allegheny Township Police Department.
“From the naked eye, you don’t know the difference,” said Roland of the need to test students’ vape pens.
“Years ago, it was cigarettes,” Roland said. “Now, it’s vaping.”
Allegheny Township police Chief Duane Fisher said his department has responded to 16 THC-related vape citations at the high school over the past four years.
Fisher said that any solid substance that can be vaporized into a liquid can be put into a vape pen.
Fisher declined to give examples beyond nicotine and marijuana used in vape pens.
“We haven’t had any deaths from vaping (here), but that’s my concern with suggesting examples of any substances,” Fisher said.