SAN JOSE, Calif. - Some South Bay parents are enraged after a San Jose school closed several on-campus bathrooms because of vaping.
Administrators at Willow Glen High School temporarily closed four restrooms citing "inappropriate use" of the facilities throughout the day.
They informed parents in a letter this week that the closures will allow officials to monitor the remaining restrooms. This is a big problem for Michelle Watson's daughter who is autistic.
Watson received a call saying her daughter became extremely upset over not being able to use the bathroom near her classroom. Watson's daughter worried she would be late for class, and the open bathrooms were not close by. It took her half a day to calm down.
"I just want them to give my freakin' kids a bathroom without having to sacrifice their schooling," Watson told San Jose Spotlight. "Kids are just small adults, and we need to treat them with respect. Not all of the children are participating in these behaviors, so not all of the children should be punished. I feel like not only is this a punishment, but it's a violation of their rights."
Vaping in the bathrooms had been happening throughout the day, said Willow Glen High School Assistant Principal Alison Zuniga in an email to parents.
She notified them that two campus supervisors are monitoring the open bathrooms. However, they lack staff to monitor all the bathrooms.
Four restrooms remain open on the campus which serves nearly 1,700 students, in addition to the gender-neutral gym lobby bathrooms and the health office restrooms.
The other two female and two male restrooms are closed until Nov. 1. School administrators are working on a supervision plan. "We encourage you to take this as an opportunity to speak to your student about the dangers of vaping both nicotine and marijuana," Zuniga wrote in the email. Watson would rather the schools place volunteers or cameras outside bathrooms. "These are educators. They need to be thinking outside the box," she said,
After Watson posted the incident on Facebook and Twitter, parent Brandi Frye said closing the facilities baffled her as smoking in the bathroom is nothing new.
"I get that these kids are morons," Frye said, "but there are so many more with good heads on their shoulders who would like to use the loo and not have to hold it all day or wait forever in a line to use the only one they can."
Teen vaping is a persistent problem that's only gotten worse over the years. San Jose has taken major steps during the past year to reduce or eliminate vaping among teens.
The City Council voted unanimously in September to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-juices and menthol cigarettes. It also banned new tobacco retailers within 1,000 feet of schools.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the risks of teen vaping, since students remove their masks indoors to smoke in a confined space inside the bathrooms.
"During COVID, we don't want kids congregating anywhere, especially inside," San Jose Unified School District spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said.
Watson's husband, David, said making kids wait in long lines for the restroom is unacceptable and might violate state law requiring a certain number of restrooms per student. High school administrators fired back by saying no lines were formed by the monitored bathrooms.
Administrators do have leeway to make decisions to close parts of campus for the safety and well-being of the students, Maddox said. She said most schools and teachers are flexible about letting students use the bathroom and that they are only missing a few minutes of class.
"If a student really needs to use a bathroom, of course we want them to use the bathroom," Maddox said. "We want them to take time to wash their hands."