San Dieguito board talks about campus bathroom safety

The San Dieguito board meets on March 15.
(Karen Billing)

Are the campus bathrooms in the San Dieguito Union High School District unsafe?

At the March 15 meeting, the board considered that very question as they discussed how to handle school bathrooms that some students consider unsafe due to vaping, fighting or other misbehaviors. The board voted 3-2 in favor of sending the issue back to each individual school site to get their opinions on whether this is a problem and potential ways to solve it. Trustees Michael Allman and Phan Anderson were opposed, believing they already know it is a problem and that they have a solution.

Allman was the one who brought the issue to the agenda, having heard multiple complaints over the past year about “rampant” vaping and that many students don’t feel safe going to the bathroom at school. He said he’s heard stories of students who won’t eat or drink during school hours because they’re afraid to use the bathroom, or that they go to Del Mar Highlands Center on the break to use their facilities instead. While student discipline issues are confidential, Allman revealed that many of the recent student expulsions were related to violence in the bathrooms at school.

“I think that’s completely unacceptable,” Allman said. “We need a safe place for the kids to use the restrooms.”

Allman’s proposal was to have parent volunteers monitor at least two bathrooms on each campus for a limited amount of time, such as during the lunch period. He was looking for board approval for his proposal that night but could not get consensus: “I’m frankly shocked that we wouldn’t do anything to make our bathrooms safe,” he said.

During the board’s discussion, student board representatives shared that they did not think it was as big of an issue as it was presented and that they did not support the use of parent volunteers.

“I think it’s been overplayed a little bit,” said Ruthie Bell, the student board representative from San Dieguito Academy. She said there are always multiple clean and open bathrooms at school and that in her her conversations with other students, it hasn’t been an issue that has been raised.

“The only public comments we’ve ever received on this issue have been from parents or adults who aren’t even parents in the district referencing social media,” said Ruthie. “We’re taught to not just believe everything we read online.”

Torrey Pines student rep Julia Liu said she has never witnessed any type of situation in the bathroom but understood that these things do happen and not just in the bathroom—many times it also happens outside of school. She urged the board to focus on providing support for students that need help and educational resources for students to learn about the consequences of their actions.

In her four years at Canyon Crest Academy, student board rep Lexi Worms said she has never seen an issue in the bathrooms but she did encounter some issues during her time at Earl Warren Middle School.

“The bathrooms are a concern but I think it’s more of a symptom of the overall issue, which is why do students feel compelled to do drugs at 10 a.m.,” Lexi said. “What are we doing to fix the issues that the students have… as opposed to just making sure the bathrooms are safe?”

Sasha Bell from La Costa Canyon shared that she has personally never felt unsafe but “having an untrained, random parent with access to the bathroom would make me feel extremely uncomfortable.”

Trustee Anderson said she appreciated the girls’ perspectives but the issues she hears are mainly from male students. She said the bathrooms in the district are not a safe space when there are kids in there fighting, vaping and doing drugs, and students are forced to wait until they get home to use the bathroom. She said parent volunteers is a new solution that they could at least try.

In 2021, the board approved piloting vape censors in the bathrooms at two schools to help tackle the same problem. Trustee Katrina Young voted against the censors and many of the student reps at the time were also opposed, again in favor of student support and education, getting to the root of the issue.

President Rigma Viskanta’s counter motion was to refer the issue to staff and school sites for their opinions: “The best approach is at the site level.” Trustee Jane Lea Smith agreed that each site could consider existing problem areas, campus supervision, substance abuse education and propose some solutions that the board could direct resources to. Smith said that parent volunteers could still be an option that comes out of that outreach.

Allman and Anderson did not support the motion. Allman said the problem with referring the issue back to site staff is that they have done it before and nothing happened.

“If we wanted safe bathrooms we would have taken action tonight instead of kicking the can down the road. Again,” Allman said.