Flagler school district officials today disavowed a sign calling toilet access a “privilege” and threatening to shut down bathrooms at Matanzas High School. The sign was the work of a teacher frustrated by vandalism and students spending too much time in bathrooms, not school or district policy, the officials said. But it’s also a reflection of an ongoing problem with vandalism in school bathrooms, largely attributed to a TikTok “challenge.”
“Attention students!! if we don’t start treating our restrooms with respect, they will be closed until further notice,” the sign, printed in large black letters on an 8-by-11 sheet and posted on the door of a bathroom stall at Matanzas High School today, read.
The sign went on to describe bathroom access as a “privilege,” which of course it is not: it is a legal requirement spelled out unequivocally in a state Department of Health rule. Toilet facilities “shall be located for convenient student access and faculty supervision and kept clean and in good repair,” the rule states. The sign at Matanzas suggested toilets could become a punitive tool.
That’s not the case, school officials said this afternoon.
“We do not withhold and or prevent students from going to the bathroom,” Kristy Gavin, the school board’s attorney, said. “However, we also have to be in compliance with sanitary requirements, so if a bathroom has been destroyed, it may need to be closed for repairs.” The sanitary requirements are spelled out in the same Department of Health rules.
“The wording was not something she condones,” Jason Wheeler, the district’s chief spokesman, said of Kristin Bozeman, the first-year principal at Matanzas. “That could have been done better.” There is no belief in the district–no policy, no procedure–that would sugegst that bathroom use is a privilege, he said.
“I believe one of our teachers put up this sign up out of frustration, we’ll have it taken down,” Bozeman wrote in an email to Wheeler today. Both were peppered with questions the moment the picture of the sign (above) appeared on Flagler Parents, the school-focused Facebook page with a large local following.
Wheeler and Bozeman said Matanzas has 30 sets of communal bathroom facilities for students–15 for boys, 15 for girls–not including non-gender-specific facilities and faculty bathrooms, so even when a bathroom is closed, students don’t have to walk far to access another.
“Around the beginning of November, we had a serious uptick in incidents of graffiti and vandalism in our restrooms (both male and female),” Bozeman wrote. “Some of the incidents were significant enough that restrooms had to be temporarily closed for cleaning or repairs. The situation has improved as our teachers have been diligent with using sign-in and sign-out sheets to record when students are out of the classroom so that if an issue is discovered, we are better able to investigate.”
The sign posted today referred to “graffiti,” “destruction of items” and the clogging of toilets, in capitalized letters. Wheeler said there’d bene instances when students had flushed vaping sticks down the toilet, causing clogging issues. Bathroom vandalism had been plaguing both Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast High School earlier this fall.
The vandalism appeared to be at least partly the result of an ongoing “challenge” on TikTok–the video-sharing social media app that prizes stupid pet tricks, but by humans–encouraging students to demolish school-bathroom amenities and post the act. The challenge even has a name, “devious licks,” and is said to have originated with one user last year whose video drew 7.2 million views.
At one point last year Fox 13, a Central Florida TV station, reported that every single school in Pasco County was hit by the vandalism. It typically targets soap dispensers, which end up in stalls, smashing urinals, intentionally clogging toilets with towels and stealing signs. Similar reports have emerged around the country. Students can face suspension and arrest, since the behavior can be criminal. TikTok is reportedly taking action by removing the content.
At Matanzas and FPC, Wheeler said bathrooms have had to be closed, at times for a day or more, because of the vandalism, since they could not be left open without soap or towel dispensers. But there’s not been an instance where students couldn’t access bathrooms. At Matanzas today, the sign had gone up in the two-level building (Building 9 or 10), where other bathrooms can easily be accessed. “It’s not like they’ve got to walk to another building to go to the bathroom,” he said.
Still, the sign’s frustration may be shared by numerous teachers, as students–whether vandalizing or not–are spending an “inordinate” amount of time in bathrooms instead of in classrooms. “It’s frustrating among teachers that kids would rather be in the bathroom taking a vape than in class,” he said.
The two middle schools appear to have been spared the vandalism. The two high schools have increased supervision by faculty, at least in hallways. At Matanzas, Bozeman says there’s “an online form for our admin team and teachers to report any issues with the restrooms so that they can be addressed.” But a text from an MHS teacher shared with FlaglerLive and possibly posted elsewhere stated: “They just close one in each hall so there’s less of them to monitor.”
Once posted on Flagler Parents, the image of the sign inevitably led to rapid reactions, some in support, some not.
“My son had mentioned that many of the restrooms are frequently closed. He often can’t find one to use. I think it’s crazy that they can do that,” one wrote. “The poor kids need to pee for goodness sake.”
“As they shouldn’t ‘close’ them, maybe kids shouldn’t keep destroying them,” another wrote. And another: “it’s a whole lot less about not cleaning up after themselves and a whole lot more about straight up vandalism. It literally says graffiti, destruction of items, intentionally clogging the toilet, I mean, if you’re OK with those types of actions well then…”
There was also constructive outrage: “Send this picture to Florida Health Department because this is a violation of the law,” a commenter identified as the “parent of multiple kids” wrote. “Shutting down the bathroom temporarily to clean or repair it is different. Punishing ALL students for this is wrong. Where’s all the people who beat their chests they want to volunteer at the school? How about volunteer for bathroom duty and you can stand by the door and ensure students are cleaning up after themselves? 🤷🏽♀️ Many large public venues and places have bathroom attendants. Maybe we need volunteers to curb the problem and keep bathrooms open and running for everyone.”