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October 3rd, 2011
05:28 PM ET

School bathrooms: Would you "go" there?

Dave Schechter
Senior National Editor

When you visit your child’s school, do you poke your head into the bathrooms? Do you ask your child about the cleanliness of those bathrooms? You might be surprised to learn how your child tries to avoid going to the bathroom at school.

Tom Keating wouldn’t be surprised.

Keating, a former teacher and school board member, is the “Bathroom Man,” the pied piper of school bathroom cleanliness.

Back in the 1980s his children, then in middle school and high school, complained about the condition of their school bathrooms. Keating researched the situation and created “Project CLEAN” (Citizens, Learners and Educators Against Neglect) in 1996. From his home near Atlanta, he has traveled across the country and even overseas, preaching a gospel of bathroom cleanliness.

As you can hear in this interview from a recent edition of the “Etiquette Lady” online radio show, Keating speaks with the fervor of an evangelist about the issue.

In the early days of his crusade, Keating was given permission to clean the bathrooms of a DeKalb County, Georgia, high school. “I went back the next day and they were just as bad as they were before,” he said. Today, Keating no longer regularly dons rubber gloves. “My efforts are advocacy, educational, and motivational with 11-18 year old students and always searching for caring adults to help them have safe, clean, hygienic restrooms in public schools, libraries, parks, rec centers, and swimming pool complexes,” he told CNN.

Keating has estimated that one-third of more than 900,000 public school bathrooms in this country are dirty, unhealthy or unsafe. He has found empty soap dispensers in 40 percent of the schools he visits. “It is for a range of issues: kids often vandalize soap dispensers, spit or pee in them, tear out the bags of hand-washing solutions, crack the plastic box. Janitors get discouraged and quit refilling. Administrators "solve" their bigger vandalism problems by ignoring the `broken window' hypothesis,” Keating said. Regardless of why it happens, kids going to the bathroom or playing sports may not be washing up properly afterward.

To the empty soap dispensers add such problems as an absence of paper towels or not enough toilet paper or no doors on the stalls or cracked mirrors or urine on the floor or graffiti on the walls or broken faucets or an unpleasant stench. The result: a greater chance of disease or injury, not to mention children whose academic performance and health suffer by not meeting the need “to go” because they won’t go “there.”

Keating said the finger of blame should not be pointed at maintenance staffs. “School district staff plumb toilets, install piping and clean commodes. Yet young adults often do their business without the common courtesy of flushing. Or, if a classmate leaves his business, the next stall occupant may refuse to modify the crime scene with a slight foot action on the flush valve. Women students with sanitary product hygiene can be as unthoughtful,” Keating has written.

Keating also blames apathy, on the part of parents, whom he says must talk with their children about what many consider a “taboo” subject, and school administrators, for whom bathroom cleanliness may not rank at the top of their pile of priorities. He suggests that bathroom cleanliness be included with other topics in the curriculum for health classes. One solution Keating has worked on is to educate teams of students to monitor the cleanliness of their school bathrooms, making their effort an educational tool – and a means of increasing respect for the men and women who clean up the messes left by students.

When a column in a Texas high school newspaper warns that, “Walking into one of the school restrooms is similar to walking onto a crime scene: the smell is overwhelming and you always fear what is lingering behind closed doors,” Keating can be heartened that there are students who acknowledge the problem. When that same columnist writes that, “The custodians . . . do the best they can to keep our campus squeaky clean. It comes down to the students respect to school restrooms as well as the funds the school has to keep the toilets, doors and sinks repaired,” Keating can be assured that his message is getting out there.

Filed under: CNN Newsroom
soundoff (102 Responses)





    From Richmond, Texas wrote ...

    I don't know about Louisiana schools but I worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 7 years as a Custodian. Most Custodians don't clean well even though they are given a semester's course in Custodial Training at the District's expense. Some Custodians don't wash down fixtures in the restrooms. They merely wipe the sinks and toilets with the same damp rag and use a damp mop to mop the floor. The only thing that is accomplished is spreading the germs. If you walk into any restroom and it smells of urine, it has not been properly cleaned or cleaned at all. The disinfectants should kill the odors if properly applied.
    Go to the schools and check out the restrooms, cafeteria and water foundations. Check out the condition of the desks and chairs. Look to see if the parts are clean.
    The problem with filth in the classroom is: "There are no checks and balances when it comes to the building and equipment cleanliness. The biggest con is the outside grounds. The clean grounds you see when you go pass the school are misleading.
    I have seen restrooms in kindergarten classes that smelled of urine.
    Everyone should visit a school. Find out why little Johnny/Jetta has a runny nose all of the time or allergies act up more during school days.
    In all fairness go to the school early in the morning to check out the facilities. When you drop off the children or before 9am. If the restrooms smell of urine you could go to the principal who will refer you to the plant Manager, who will or will not rectify the issue immediately.
    Last but not least, visit the showers children use after P.E.. Again go early in the morning. Happy Germ Killing...
    Former Custodian

    Thank You Semaj,


    April 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  2. martin

    Let's not be to quick to blame the custodians, in my current district of employment, they cut back on the custodial staff by half in the last couple of years, but they almost doubled the square footage of the campuses. When you have an hour to clean 25 restrooms, You dont have time to detail much. Yes there are many lazy custodians, but i know at least in my district, we are surely understaffed.

    December 12, 2013 at 4:30 am |
  3. jason

    We are having the same problems in the Brightwood and Monterey Highland in the city on Monterey park. They may be understaff but I think they are pure lazy. We have the same problems for many years and notified Alhambra school district but nothing ge t done. They blamed it on school union. All they have to do is go inside and check it out. I am more concern about children health and safety. All they have to do is just clean it once a day. If it too much work, then they work some where else.

    September 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm |
  4. Alfred Wayne

    I wouldn't eat out of the toilets. Custodians are poorly motivated.

    September 25, 2014 at 5:50 pm |
  5. lhall

    Great idea. Have the parents actually go into the bathrooms and see what they're like. I remember when my dad went to the bathroom at the school I went to. No doors on the stalls! This was a boarding school for boys aged from 6 to sixteen, Linton Hall Military School

    December 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm |
  6. Erica Cole

    So interesting article! I hated to go to the bathroom when I was in the high school. Most of my mates go there to smoke and actually the toilets were so dirty. Something should be done! Thanks for the article!


    December 15, 2014 at 5:55 am |
  7. Viola F.

    My seven-year-old son had a lot of problems with the bathroom in his school. One day he told me that he is afraid to go to the toilet because the place was too dirty. I was so angry! I spoke to the principle of the school and fortunately they made everything to make the bathrooms cleaner. Now, my son is not afraid to go to the toilet and I am calm that everything is all right while he is at school.

    March 25, 2015 at 5:59 am |
  8. Abca

    Parents should teach the kids by example at home. I am from Europe. Unfortunately lots of private bathrooms in US homes and businesses are VERY dirty. I saw many dirty bathrooms in public parks and municipal buildings. in this category USA resembles more of the third country than a word leader. Sorry to say it and see it...

    July 21, 2016 at 2:23 am |
  9. Joshua

    I have this problem in my school were the bathrooms have been looking bad and also smelling bad. We as students hate going to the bathroom because the bathroom as a overall smells bad. I agree with your article because it shouldn't be the staffs fault for the bathrooms being the way they are, I'm pretty sure that the staff work hard to have the bathrooms clean. As a student that going through the same thing for 4 years straight, it gets annoying. Have u had any new articles about a way to help the staffs keep the school bathrooms clean?

    January 10, 2018 at 10:09 am |
  10. Blake

    I have the same problem. I will walk into a bathroom and notice "feces" on the toilet. I am doing a project on this topic so I read the article and I will write as truthfully and as promising as I can! 😉

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    As a former student myself every time I use the restroom in my middle school, I always see blood or poop on the toilet seats. And all most all of the times no toilet paper, or hand soap!! 🙁

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