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School bathroom closures statewide drive rising tensions, pushback

“It could be very upsetting to a student to show up at a locked bathroom and to have to worry, ‘Will I make it [to another] in time?’”

Erin Clark for The Boston Globe
A bathroom in a Boston high school.


The condition of bathrooms in Boston Public Schools, and in other urban districts, has fueled public outrage for years, with broken taps and empty towel dispensers seen as sorry symbols of a failure to meet even basic needs. But across the state and country, an even more fundamental problem is gaining attention: increasing restrictions on students’ access to bathrooms, as administrators keep more restrooms locked and off limits for more of the school day.

Driven by efforts to curtail teen vaping, and to prevent outbreaks of vandalism sparked by the TikTok trend known as “Devious Licks”, the widespread crackdowns on bathroom access have left students in some schools searching urgently for unlocked stalls — and pining for any open restroom, no matter how broken or dirty. As teenagers learn to hold their urine for hours – or stop eating and drinking at school to avoid discomfort — the outcry against the closures from students and parents has grown louder.

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“I understand that there are safety concerns, but the whole school shouldn’t have basic human rights taken away,” said Nevaeh Lopez, 16, a student at Holyoke High School who started an online petition to push back against bathroom closures at her school this spring. The issue has provoked fiery debate at school committee meetings and in online forums around the region in recent months, as well as calls and e-mails to principals and school nurses. A post about bathroom restrictions at New Bedford High School, on the New Bedford Live Facebook page in October, garnered nearly 200 comments, from students who described missing class time while waiting in long bathroom lines, and from adults who placed blame squarely on the teenagers. (“If they would act like civilized human beings they would be able to be trusted,” wrote one.)

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