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Why Are Volunteers Sitting Outside Student Bathrooms?

Recently, students at Berkeley High School (BHS) may have noticed adults outside many of the bathrooms on campus. These adults are parent volunteers, who, after receiving repeated reports of vaping and other unwanted behaviors taking place in bathrooms, decided to take action. They are appointed by the BHS administration through Berkeley Schools Volunteers, a program of the Berkeley Schools Fund.

In late October, Claudia Gonzalez, the dean of students at BHS, sent an email to the BHS parent volunteer list that said, “[I’m noticing an] increase in undesirable bathroom behaviors.” These behaviors include making phone calls, vaping, and participating in the “devious licks” trend in which students vandalize school property during instructional time.

BHS has 12 safety officers for the entire school,  and is unable to assign an officer outside every bathroom. As a consequence, the administration has turned to parent volunteers to help deter these “undesirable bathroom behaviors” and encourage students who wander the halls during class time to return to their classrooms.

In her parent volunteer email, Gonzalez urged parents to sign up, in order to fill the void left by a shortage of security officers, saying, “This volunteer request is incredibly important because we simply do not have enough staffing to cover all the bathrooms throughout the day.” She also added that “students are becoming more and more aware of [this lack of supervision].”

Patricia Duignan, one of these parent volunteers, believes “it’s useful to have parents … like me as a presence at the school.” She said that so far, not a single act of vandalism or vaping has occurred while she has been monitoring the restrooms.

However, when Duignan was asked to patrol the hallways, she felt less successful. “I just couldn’t bring myself to aggressively ask for hall passes or say things like, ‘Phones are only to be used in emergencies,’” she said. “I think the parent volunteers should leave the discipline to security,” Duignan added.  

Gonzalez, who is in charge of assigning volunteers to be stationed throughout campus, explained that the bathrooms that have adults outside of them are selected based on the number of reports of misconduct that the administration has received.

“For now,” Gonzalez explained, “I’m prioritizing [appointing volunteers to] the bathrooms that receive the most frequent complaints from students and staff.” Currently, the administration is working with a handful of volunteers.

Phoebe Dedlow, a BHS freshman, reported that she has noticed one of these parent volunteers sitting outside the girls’ bathroom on the first floor of the G-Building. Dedlow said she was only “slightly surprised” to see an adult monitoring the outside of the bathroom and believes that this new development is not invasive.

“If [the parent volunteers] were standing inside the bathrooms, that would be a different story. But because [volunteers] are standing outside the bathrooms, they don’t make people feel that uncomfortable.”

When the volunteers arrive, they receive instructions from Gonzalez and a tour to familiarize themselves with the campus. From what Gonzalez can tell, “the number of students taking extended breaks in the bathrooms has been decreasing, and [volunteers] have also reported seeing more students using hall passes.”

Dedlow, however, doesn’t think that these volunteers are very effective in deterring students from participating in “undesirable bathroom behaviors,” such as vaping or smoking during class time.

“I think it’s very likely that students will go vape in a different bathroom, one without an adult standing outside,” Dedlow added from her perspective as a student.

“It’s still too early to tell just how much of an impact these parent volunteers will have,” Gonzalez said, “but I would say that the progress thus far is a step in the right direction.”

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