Doorless bathrooms outrage parents Arundel middle school has unusual policy

September 25, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

When Lindsay Breach gets home from a six-hour day at Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie, her mother says she makes a beeline for the bathroom.

She doesn't like to use the bathrooms at school. They don't have outer doors.

"I don't want anybody looking in there or anything," said Lindsay. The sixth-grader worries eighth-graders would laugh at the sight of her adjusting her clothes or belt outside a stall.

Robert Janovsky, in his second year as principal of Corkran Middle, says he likes the doorless bathrooms because they are easier to monitor.

But other educators are critical. Even the Anne Arundel County Schools' psychiatrist compared the practice to living in a "big tent." Bathrooms at most schools in the Baltimore area are monitored by administrators, school officials say. Outraged parents at Corkran Middle have volunteered to monitor the bathrooms if the doors are returned.

"It's a part of how we monitor what's going on," said Janovsky of doorless bathrooms, which, according to him, keep preteens from smoking and goofing off in the bathrooms. "It does have a tendency to make sure it's a lot quieter."

He insists "the area of privacy is still maintained" because the stalls are not immediately visible from doorways. Students walk through a 6-foot hallway at the doorway, then turn toward the sinks, stalls and, in boys' rooms, urinals. The setup shields from view the main part of the bathroom. Janovsky said the school's 885 students, ages 10 through 13, have not complained.

But some of their parents were upset when they learned about the doors from a reporter. Corkran Middle's policy is unusual. Of Anne Arundel's 15 other middle schools, 12 have bathroom doors. The boys' bathrooms in Arundel Middle are doorless; Bates Middle School is built with concrete openings rather than doors; Crofton Middle keeps bathroom doors propped open.

Carroll and Howard County public school officials said they have never removed bathroom doors in their schools, and Baltimore County -- where doors were removed 10 or 15 years ago -- is putting them back under pressure from PTAs.

At some of the most troubled Baltimore City schools, such as William H. Lemmel, Thurgood Marshall and West Baltimore middle -- schools that are more likely to face problems such as students smoking, loitering or cutting classes -- principals were opposed to removing doors. They have a simpler solution:

"You send men in the boys' room and women in the girls' room, and you tell the students, 'When you're finished, go to class,' " said Jacqueline L. Frierson, principal at Lemmel Middle.

The Corkran policy was instituted about six years ago, when a principal who was worried about misbehavior removed the doors to the three boys' and the three girls' bathrooms from their hinges, leaving the blue- and pink-tile decor exposed to passers-by in the hallway.

"I've never heard of [doorless bathrooms] before," said Lynn Wallich, assistant executive director of the 20,000-member National Middle School Association, based in Columbus, Ohio. "Children at this age level are going through enough developmental issues physically, emotionally and intellectually, and I just feel it's an invasion of privacy. I wonder how the staff would feel if they removed the doors on their bathrooms."

Surprised, probably. Faculty bathrooms at Corkran have closed outer doors with signs saying they are for faculty only.

"The bathroom activity's a private activity," said Ulku Ulger, a contracted child psychiatrist for county schools. But at Corkran, he said, "it's like everybody's living in a big tent. That's not right." Because children learn to close bathroom doors at home, not doing so at school could make them feel violated, he said.

Some parents worry that the rule especially hurts girls.

"Little girls get their periods" in middle school, said Kathy Breach, Lindsay's mother, who learned about the situation from a reporter. Without an outer door, "they have to stand in the stalls and get everything done inside the stalls."

About 10 Corkran parents have formed a group called Monitoring Our Students Together and agreed to take turns patrolling halls and bathrooms.

"I feel there's no reason they can't have a teacher or administrator posted outside the door between class changes," said Tammy Swenson, who signed up. "The principal tells me there's not enough manpower to monitor them between class changes. I'm sorry, I don't see that."

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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