Theogony research conducted from September to early December of the 2010-2011 school year paints a picture of T.C. student bathrooms in disarray. Results of the study indicate that at any point during the school day, nearly 40% of student restrooms do not have a fully operational hand-washing station. The most common breakdown of the hand-washing station in student bathrooms is inaccessible or non-existent soap.
“We make sure that the soap dispensers are always full, every day,” said Brian Hoover, a building services engineer at T.C. Hoover, who is employed by a private contractor, said, “The real issue is that the o-rings on these soap dispensers are disintegrating, thus blocking soap from being dispensed…the sinks are a poor design.”
O-rings are rubber fittings similar to washers.
T.C.’s three year old soap dispensers are falling apart. With their o-rings breaking down, soap on students’ hands is a rarity. In the rare occasion that soap does come out of the dispenser, it is often brown with rust from corrosion.
The sink worries in Alexandria’s only public high school do not end with an absence of soap. Theogony studies indicate that often the sink itself does not provide students with water.
“Sometimes, the sink just doesn’t turn on. This is really annoying, especially when I’ve already covered my hands in the rusty soap,” said sophomore Ethan Vannatta.
In a meeting with T.C.’s building engineers, Theogony learned how the sinks turn off when water spills into a certain area of the sink, a safety feature to reduce risk of electrocution. When this happens, the sink has to be reported to the main office by someone and building engineers have to be dispatched to the bathroom to reset the sink.
With no central switchboard or monitoring system indicating when a sink has shut off and many students and staff not knowing who to contact in the event of a broken sink. it is often hours before sinks are turned back on. “There are students who don’t wash their hands and simply leave the bathroom because they don’t know what to do when the sink isn’t working,” commented Adam Levine, chair of T.C.’s World Languages Department.
Theogony records show that some restrooms, such as B338, a boys’ bathroom on the third floor, have not had soap since the first week of school in September.
With hundreds of students using such bathrooms as B338 in any given period, Mr. Shabazz concluded that he must, “just assume that my students have dirty hands. It’s really an outrage.”
Soap and Water: A Fundamental, Undeniable, Human Right
T.C. may teach its students single-variable Calculus brilliantly, but without a proper hand-washing station in its bathrooms, it fails to provide the basic human need of sanitation. To think that T.C. calls itself a “home for its students” and a “warm learning environment” without consistent access to soap and water is ironic and calls into question how serious T.C. really is about becoming “a school of excellence,” in the words as Principal Suzanne Maxey.
As the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states in their “Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives” health handbook, “many diseases are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.”
With T.C.’s student population of more than 2,000 students having little or no access to soap and water during the seven hour school day, the T.C. administration and the entirety Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) are negligent about an important hygiene issue.
Without soap and water, the T.C. Williams administration is failing to provide students, staff, and community members all that they deserve.
One recent Saturday Theogony reporters encountered a young man who had cut himself while visiting T.C. for an event. As he attempted to wash his wounded, bleeding hand, no soap was available and he turned to leave telling us simply “Well, hopefully it won’t get infected.”