Sunday, December 8, 2019

On bathrooms, urban schools, and press coverage

There's a big story in today's Boston Globe about the bathrooms in the Boston Public Schools, and I have to say that I really have some mixed feelings about it.

This isn't just a Boston thing, at all.

First, let's be really clear: kids deserve on-demand (yes, really) access to clean, functional, easily accessible bathrooms where they feel and are safe and comfortable. Bathrooms are and have been a marker in the battle for civil rights. That isn't too much to ask; it's a basic public health issue, and, as is noted in the article, not providing that has real impacts on student learning (which is what we're about, after all).

I also appreciate Bianca Vázquez Toness very appropriately calling out that is communicates to students how much they and their educations are valued:
It is not a conventional measure of success or failure in the city’s schools, but it is a telling one: What does it say to the children of the schools that they are expected, as they strive to learn, to put up with such facilities? Or avoid them at all cost — and great discomfort?

As parent and as a former teacher, the knee-jerk reaction of limiting bathroom access--very much not just a Boston issue--drives me bananas. There's no way it should be happening. Stop locking bathrooms as a measure of student control. That's just wrong.
It is true, again, that parent advocacy has a direct impact on learning conditions. That shouldn't be the determining factor.
And if and when what we have is a custodial issue, then as in any other circumstance of people not doing their jobs OR (and this happens!) not having enough staff to do their jobs well, then we very much ought to fix that. 
(There are national measures for custodial staffing that can be referenced on this.)

It's important to read this, however, in the context of the Globe article from last week on crumbling school infrastructure. For that, the Globe went to Lynn, which itself is interesting, but I know enough about Boston's school buildings to know that one could write the same article about Boston...or Worcester.

Worcester has fifty school buildings.
MSBA estimates a fifty year lifespan for new schools.
Given those two pieces of information, how often should Worcester be opening a new school?

Every. Single. Year.

And Boston has more than twice as buildings than that, and it simply hasn't been rebuilding and renovating at the rate needed to keep up with that replacement cycle. I was in the English High last week for the bill signing, and I used the bathroom (a staff bathroom) while I was there. It was clean, and people were doing their best, but they were doing their best with heavily used, outdated facilities and not enough money.
And that's true there and in Worcester and in Lynn and in Springfield...
Not tying this back to that funding article does, I think, a disservice to those who have been struggling to make it work in the Boston schools, and I know that there are plenty of them.

As this is Boston, let me also note this: the Boston School Committee's ability to advocate for the schools to the city is, in my personal view, hamstrung by their being a committee appointed by the Mayor. For those appointed by the Mayor to go to the Mayor and fight for more capital funding for schools seems...well, not to be working. Again, that's my personal opinion.
Either way, Boston isn't getting schools built and renovated quickly. And if you were parent with a rising kindergartner, what would be your reaction to this article?


Unknown said...

Not only is English High past its use-by date, it was never built to be a high school in the first place. It was Boston Gas' headquarters and the school committee moved students there when they voted to close schools during the summer of 1989.

English High was then located on Avenue Louis Pasteur in a new building, across from Boston Latin School. The city hoped to sell off the real estate in the the Fenway for a profit, but could not because the new building had been constructed with school building funds and was embargoed from sale.

The disregard goes on for decades.

Christine Langhoff

Sue said...

Bathrooms should not be locked.