Win Restroom Respect
One school district’s plan to provide sanitary amenities against all odds

It was not uncommon for a visitor to a Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District (LBUSD) restroom last spring to find inside what looked like the aftermath of a terrible disaster.

Many times, toilet paper and paper towels were sprinkled across the floor. Paper and soap dispensers were ripped from graffiti-covered walls. Mirrors were broken, sinks were clogged, toilets were backed-up. There was a fire pit smoldering in a toilet.

But there was nothing natural about the restroom disasters. Although restrooms started out spotless each morning, random acts of vandalism by students caused many a campus restroom to go from good to bad to ugly in a matter of minutes.

Not only was the mess a headache for janitors, some students did not appreciate the catastrophic conditions of the restrooms, either, and they let the district know. About two dozen high school students protested outside the district’s school board meeting last June. Bearing signs which read “No justice, no peace, without a place to pee,” the students complained of overflowing toilets and lack of toilet paper, paper towels and soap.

LBUSD janitors and district officials say the restrooms are not that bad. The restrooms are cleaned on a regular basis, they say, but students make messes, damage stalls and dispensers and do not clean up after themselves.

“I invite anyone to come out here and take a picture of any toilet in the morning,” says Bob Smock, director of operations for LBUSD. “Our bathrooms measure up to any other bathroom.”

Long Beach area newspapers featured articles on the LBUSD’s restroom battles, including photos to prove that janitors are doing their jobs. District officials say they received some “bad publicity” and wanted to show the public what the restroom conditions really were like.

“We even requested an inspection by the Long Beach Health Department and they found us to be in compliance with the same standards you find at hotels and restaurants,” says LBUSD spokesman Tom Bush. “It just takes one person to ruin things for others.”

Even though the schools passed health department inspections, Smock says his department initiated a form for custodians to sign ensuring they are checking and restocking restrooms three times a day. No other changes have been made in cleaning frequency or strategies, he says.

“I don’t think changes are required,” Smock says. “The thing that needs to change is the kids need to respect the bathrooms more. We have literally thousands of bathrooms and we are doing our darnedest. Students can help by getting their peers to do less damage during the day.”

This year, Bush says, principals at each school will be in charge of encouraging students to cooperate with keeping restrooms tidy. In addition, new hand dryers recently were installed in some restrooms to help cut down on paper waste.

“We’ll always look at new technology that would help in that sort of thing,” Bush says. But limited resources make it difficult to implement expensive equipment.

The district’s nearly 100,000 students share more than 6,000 toilets and urinals, a ratio of about 16-1. Janitors expect restroom battles against vandals to continue this year, but hopefully decrease with the help of principals and students. And Smock says he expects to receive student complaints this year.

“There is always room for complaints,” Smock says. “We’ll act on anything that’s valid.”

Partners in Cleaning

Imagine having workers come into your building, already trained to use your equipment and supplies to clean your building. They have a higher retention rate, they sometimes come with their own job coaches and rarely complain about their responsibilities.

This dream crew exists through a program called NISH, a federal initiative charged with creating employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities. For more than 25 years, NISH and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) program have provided custodial services for the federal government.

The two groups make it possible for people who are blind or who have severe disabilities to acquire job skills and training and better wages and benefits through a variety of organizations.

Fedcap Building Services in New York City is one such custodial, janitorial and groundskeeping company that employs roughly 500 people with disabilities. All custodians must graduate from Fedcap’s five-month training program prior to working at one of its many federal accounts.

Many of Fedcap’s 50 team leaders and supervisors are people with disabilities who have been trained through the Fedcap program.

Fedcap workers clean 26 Federal Plaza in New York, the nation’s second-largest non-military federal building. Ninety-seven Fedcap workers clean for a variety of the buildng’s tenants, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Some other Fedcap sites include LaGuardia Community College in Queens and Ellis Island.

JWOD contractors clean more than 65 million square feet of office space every day in federal buildings nationwide. Contractors offer a range of custodial services, including office cleaning, carpet and stain removal, window cleaning, pressure washing, restroom sanitation and restocking, pool maintenance and more.