Updated, 10:02 a.m.: NHS enrollment is 1770 students. 8:49 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – Concerns about teenagers vaping has led to a shortage of bathrooms at Norwalk High School.
“I feel a little silly coming here and talking about this topic but it has been lingering on and I think it needs to be addressed,” parent Susan Lanzerotto said to the Board of Education on Tuesday. For at least two months the school’s 1,770 students have only had two bathrooms open per gender for most of the day, with a third one open at lunch, Lanzerotto said.
“To me, this is a health issue, particularly because we are in the peak of the cold and the flu season. That means 800 students are using two restrooms. That is crazy, crazy, crazy,” she said. “Numerous parents have called and tried to get this changed but most have not gotten any answers, except that ‘it’s because of vaping, and we don’t have enough security to open more of the bathrooms.’”
“Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. The term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles,” the Center on Addiction writes.
“Among youth, e-cigarettes are more popular than any traditional tobacco product,” John Hopkins writes. “In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported that e-cigarette use among high school students had increased by 900 percent, and 40 percent of young e-cigarette users had never smoked regular tobacco.”
“While I understand the challenge, I don’t think the answer can be to close the restrooms and really make all of the students use two bathrooms,” Lanzerotto said. The bathrooms are dirty, there are long lines, and students who don’t get back to the classroom on time are marked as being tardy, she said.
NHS Assistant Principal Edward Singleton had told her there was a meeting Tuesday and that he hoped to have more bathrooms open soon, but she wanted the Board to see that it happens this week.
Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis expressed sympathy, said the Board has been trying to resolve the issue, and accused the school’s principal of “not doing his job”.
“I did send an email just yesterday or two days ago, saying, this issue has been going on for a long time,” he said. “… The principal has not been doing his job there. Period, the end.”
NHS Principal Reginald Roberts went on medical leave Thursday, according to Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams. Barbis said he’s working with Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and the interim principal because, “We are aware of this and we realize this is not healthy, it’s not sustainable and it needs to be addressed.”
“We definitely take your concern very seriously,” BoE Policy Committee Chairwoman Heidi Keyes said.
“It’s unsanitary,” Lanzerotto said, in an unusual back-and-forth between the Board and a public speaker. “Today, somebody got sick in one of the girls restrooms so there was only one restroom open, I believe, for two or three hours today for 800 girls.”
“This really is in the purview of the School Governance Council,” Barbis said. “For reasons I don’t really understand, they have been reluctant-slash-unwilling to address the issue but I believe they are having a meeting this week and it is on their agenda. There has been pressure on them and I would highly suggest as a parent and other parents you know, to contact them as well because they are the ones who are making these decisions and working with the principal. Miss Guilbault and Mr. (Bob) Duff, you can send them both a message.”
At that point, Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell’s jaw dropped.
April Guilbault has been SGC Co-Chair. Duff, State Senate Majority Leader, is one of 17 SGC members. Meyer-Mitchell said after the meeting that Jim Napoli is Co-Chair now.
Barbis has been a frequent critic of Duff, and has repeatedly said that Duff does not obtain enough state funding for Norwalk schools.
Vaping is the bigger issue, Lanzerotto replied to Barbis, but “The way to solve that is not to close restrooms.”
“We are definitely looking into that,” Barbis replied. “Miss Keyes in particular has been really on top of this subject. We are looking into what other districts are doing, just today, we were discussing, in Greenwich Public Schools they have put in certain detectors and we were looking into those. I think it is worth noting that there have been previous complaints also about the custodial staff and the level of cleanliness of those bathrooms…. There’s been a long history, even before vaping started, where those custodians didn’t want to deal so they just locked a bunch of bathrooms.”
Keyes said that she, Costanzo and the Policy Committee are on top of the issue.
“We really are working on that, as a Board, to try to solve that,” she said. “But the bathroom is a big issue and it doesn’t solve the problem by closing bathroom doors, it’s not going to solve the vaping issue. So we know that we have to open up more bathrooms.”
Meyer-Mitchell was given a chance to speak.
“I spoke to the SGC Chair and this has been raised at the last two SGC meetings at Norwalk High. So that’s not quite factual,” she said.
Barbis replied, “You know what Barbara? That’s not what I heard.”