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Norwalk High students struggle with bathroom shortage

Parent Susan Lanzerotto speaks to the Norwalk Board of Education, Tuesday in City Hall, as shown in the Norwalk Public Schools video.

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.”

19 comments

Elisabeth B February 6, 2019 at 7:32 am

I’m confused, is Mr. Barbis stating that the SGC is responsible for fixing the issue with vaping or is he stating that the SGC is responsible for finding an alternative? Because both options are crazy to me.

Shame on the BOE, Dr. A, and Mr. Costanzo for not IMMEDIATELY opening the restrooms. This disgusting and has gone on far too long. Have parents go through background checks, give them passes and let parent volunteers monitor the restrooms.

There, I fixed the problem and the cost to the town is $0.

DrewT February 6, 2019 at 8:31 am

Chairman Barbis is correct. This topic of closing the bathrooms and a solution was first now being addressed by the SGC. It has to do with repairing a simple Courtyard that has taken over 3 years to do.

Kevin Kane February 6, 2019 at 8:52 am

You can’t make this up. If this is actually true… Holy wow…. A simple issue boils up to the BOE, our Senator and consumes valuable time. A full breakdown of any coherent system whereby an administrator or other staff member simply calls BS on the delay and opens the doors. Again, in the private sector if such a fundamental issue goes unaddressed at the employee level, falls down at the managers level…stumbles past the VP level…gathers dust in the C-Suite and ends up in the lap of the Board of Directors, someone would be out of a job long ago.

Here is what Port-a-Potties calculate, maybe slip that line item in the budget: https://www.servicesanitation.com/portable-restroom-calculator

Better yet, go rogue and expose this failure by placing a port-a-potty at the main entry to the school with a sign directing students and taxpayers to the ideal solution. Have a News12 reporter or Hearse Media reporter be the first ones to use it. Please let me know where I can donate – I’m in for 20 bucks.

Debora Goldstein February 6, 2019 at 11:05 am

Does the Health Department have any responsibility to inspect the bathrooms?

In New York, the lack of sufficient bathrooms in a school is a constitutional issue under their state constitution.

This may also be actionable under the equal protection clause of the constitution. It’s a particular burden on female students of this age to have insufficient access to a bathroom, due to unique biological needs.

I assume the staff and teachers have access to bathrooms at more reasonable ratio than 400:1. They are protected under OSHA.

Niz February 6, 2019 at 11:23 am

vaping… well maybe but it is my understanding a gang situation is also a grim concern. I wish the local police and NHS Staff would be transparent about it. This way we can quietly work at combating with tips for parents and kids to help keep us safe and possibly expose who and when a crime might be in motion.

Edwina Borno February 6, 2019 at 11:50 am

I believe it’s time for NHS to get a complete makeover. Items such as bathroom, showers, and other update modifications should be discussed.

Joe February 6, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Yikes,

As if we don’t have enough problems already, let’s legalize dope too.

One more thing for the kids to smoke.

Governor Lamont wants to do it. Please let him know if you have concerns.

Jeff Hall February 6, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Edwina Borno: NHS had a complete makeover a just few years ago. It’s key feature was a new science wing. There was a small scandal when it opened, because it turned out the BOE forgot — to install restrooms.

Kathleen February 6, 2019 at 4:29 pm

I suggest that all the bathrooms at City Hall be locked down until this is resolved. And anywhere that Mike Barbis goes as well until he learns to stop blaming others for something he should be contributing to. This is a HEALTH issue.

Mike Barbis February 6, 2019 at 6:23 pm

Kathleen, I hate to tell you but it is not the BOE’s responsibility to be overseeing bathroom operations at our schools … that’s the responsibility of the well compensated administrator responsible for operations at the school, the principal, who oversees the school in conjunction with the School Governance Council. And, Kathleen, what exactly am I supposted to be contributing to?

Danny February 6, 2019 at 11:26 pm

This is very upsetting. I mean, Bob Duff picked out the colors to paint the school – so why isn’t he proactive to keep enough bathrooms open?

Debora Goldstein February 7, 2019 at 9:21 am

Mike,

Does the BOE do policy reviews? Perhaps you can amend the security policy to ensure that it does not permit unconstitutional denial of basic human services like bathroom use for the children. OSHA already protects the adults.

Cheers,

Deb

enough February 7, 2019 at 9:29 am

While this is unfortunate it is not a BOE issue. This is simply an NHS issue and should be taken up with the administration there.

EnoPride February 7, 2019 at 11:21 am

Fairfield County or Third World Country? Disgraceful. Parents should make a call and slap the school with a health violation and get it inspected. These conditions for months now? What kind of Principal allows this neglect and breakdown in management? He needs to be let go if he cannot so much as provide the students with the most basic of human needs. He also has clearly lost control of his school, which sets off red flags. Sounds like the vaping kids are running the school and not the other way around. My mother is a retired city high school principal. When I told her this was going on, she was rendered speechless. Never on her watch would this situation take place.

It is concerning that if the Principal is conducting business this way, and this disgrace has been going on for quite some time, that the Principal has not been sat down by the Superintendent and told to get his house in order, or else. While the SGC can sit with the Principal and discuss solutions on how to resolve the problems, the SGC cannot pull rank over a Superintendent and assume the position of disciplining a Principal and telling him to do his job properly. If the Principal chooses not to take the suggestions of the SGC and chooses to do nothing, then SGC’s hands are tied, and a scenario like that would be why nothing has been done in any quick way.

Vaping within the school building should be strictly prohibited, with punishable repercussions, period. Whatever happened to rotating certain teachers as hall monitors to keep an eye on this type of thing? Or someone earlier mentioned volunteers if the manpower/budget does not allow. Or, better yet, if the volume of bathrooms is too large to police, keep all the bathrooms open in timed blocks and have a bathroom schedule/only certain timeframes to use them, as blocks are more controllable to monitor efficiently by limited staff assigned to tight blocks. That with the vaping detectors and vaping is not permitted signs. Sheesh! Just get it done already! Do it for the kids!

Teacher February 7, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Pay no attention to the “man” behind the curtain… this highlight the need for better supervision of schools. How can students be denied access to functional bathrooms because the actions of the vaping students?
Did the Principal, SGC reach out to central office ? What was their response… ???

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