Toilet Tomfoolery

The first thing you see in the girls’ bathroom in the lower 900s is a purple pen drawing of boobs just left of the tally chart where you can vote for your favorite body part. In the upper 900 girls’ bathroom, you are welcomed by a marker scrawl on the stall wall that reads ‘my ex is trash.’

The vandalism in the bathrooms at North changes every day. No matter how hard the janitors work to remove the graffiti, more inevitably comes to take its place. Since the 2019-20 school year, bathroom vandalism has only gotten worse. Its peak was during the 2020-21 school year, when the graffiti became more apparent. 

“I think it’s part of the school. It’s like a piece of history,” sophomore Mercy Hasty said. 

The janitors work hard everyday to keep up with all of the bathroom wreckage, leaving room for new chunks of vandalism everyday. 

“Vandalism is basically a massive middle finger to the custodians, which is very disappointing on many levels,” senior Isobel Li said. “Custodians already receive little compensation nor recognition for their work, let alone compensation for cleaning up defecation murals and replacing stall doors that were taken off for fun.”

The janitors spend time at the end of every day cleaning the bathrooms but damage beyond everyday wear and tear can slow them down. 

“The vandalism] is unbelievably disrespectful to the janitors and cleaning staff that are in here working hard. I was here at the school because of basketball until 9 pm last night, and they’re here. They’re always here, it’s unbelievable. They work so hard to keep our school clean and for people to [vandalize] the bathrooms and leave a mess for other people to clean up is completely disrespectful,” history teacher Brent Schulte said. 

Repairing the bathrooms can take hours depending on the extent of the damage, especially if a toilet or sink has been broken or stolen. 

Other, smaller messes take less time to clean up but still add on to the end of a janitor’s workday. “It depends on the size of the mess, but it takes roughly 20-25 minutes to clean up the messes in the bathroom. It’s a lot of work,” janitor Armando Sanchez said.

Some students will remember the “devious lick” trend that came to North during the first semester last school year that resulted in most of North’s bathrooms being closed. 

“It frustrates me and all of the teachers when the bathrooms are closed,” Schulte said. “We have a lot of vandalism down here in the 900s hallway, and then the mens’ bathroom is closed and I’m now out of a bathroom. That irritates me greatly, and my students. It’s a small group of people creating big problems and it makes me and most of us mad. Stop doing it!”

The trend, popularized by Tencent-owned social media app TikTok, involved students removing items from bathrooms in their highschools. 

Senior Noah Smith didn’t appreciate the trend, saying that “when property damage began it was not as cool, especially since basic life needs were being limited.”

This trend was not limited solely to Olathe North. Schools around Olathe and the country suffered from property damage. Evan Noeth, a senior at Olathe Northwest High School, said that because of the trend, mirrors were ripped off of bathroom walls and doors were ripped off their hinges.

Another problem, Noeth says, was that due to the vandalism at Olathe Northwest,  only five people were allowed in a bathroom at a time but only one men’s bathroom was open in the entire school. This meant that if all the stalls were full, people who wanted to use the men’s restroom either had to wait or not go at all. 

“Once the trend started, the mirrors and towels dispensers in the bathrooms immediately disappeared. I had to walk to the gym restrooms because none of the close ones were open,” Olathe Northwest senior Easton Lane said. Fellow Northwest senior Shane Macrorie notes that “some of [Olathe Northwest] bathrooms still don’t have mirrors in them,” indicating the lasting damage the vandalism has caused. 

The schools have to pay to replace stolen items and when the budget has already been reduced, that can put a strain on resources beyond the approved cuts because the district hadn’t planned on having to replace multiple bathroom fixtures. 

“We can’t say exactly how much money it was but [it was] a lot,” Sanchez said. “It took a long time for repairs too.”

This raises the question: why do students feel the need to commit so many vandalistic acts? Is it because of their social environment, the way they were brought up, or something completely different?

The Olathe Public Schools Code of Student Conduct defines vandalism as “the willful or malicious destruction or defacement of any property.” The code also classifies vandalism as a Class II Offense, meaning that even the first offense can result in both in and out-of-school suspension, as well as being prevented from competing in or attending athletic events. 

Knowing these consequences, it can be hard to believe that there are some students who still commit vandalism. And yet, vandalism is more common than most people think. 

A primary reason for this is peer pressure. Many vandals deface public property because they want to enhance their status within their social group. They feel that “standing up to authority” in that manner makes them seem cool to their friends. 

According to the Arizona State University Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, many teens choose this method of increasing their standing because there isn’t a risk of them failing, like there is in a game or fighting. 

Another reason some students commit vandalism is because they are angry at either the administration of the school or their teachers for various reasons, such as feeling they shouldn’t have been punished for doing something they shouldn’t have, or because they are doing poorly academically and blame their teachers for their failure. 

The Department of Justice says that “vandalism permits powerless individuals to strike out against the institutions which control them and to take charge of the situation themselves, arousing fear in others and raising their own self-esteem. An inhibited person who acts aggressively and is not punished feels relieved and encouraged.”

A tertiary motivation for vandalism, while less common, is committing the crime with the intention of canceling school for the next day. Some vandals believe that if they can do enough damage to the school, then the administration has no choice but to close the school for repairs.

Olathe North has not been closed due to vandalism in more than four years, so vandals operating under this philosophy will be sorely disappointed. Their efforts will not have been completely in vain however: oftentimes their actions will result in many of the school’s bathrooms being closed for repairs, forcing over 2,000 students to share two bathrooms amongst themselves. 

“I do not like being on the verge of peeing myself, considering we’re also not allowed to use the bathroom ten minutes before or after the bell rings,” sophomore Angel Samano said. 

Some students believe that it’s not fair for the janitors to have to clean up after students who make messes in the bathrooms. 

“Their job is to clean up regularly occurring trash and to keep the school running efficiently. It is not right to create more work for people already working very hard,” senior Matt Coffman said. 

The janitors agree with Coffman’s sentiment. 

“Please think about the work we do, how much work we do, and the time we take. Value what we do in this school,”  janitor Sanchez said.