BERLIN — After removing soap dispensers from student bathrooms, a local school found itself the target of a small storm of parental outrage.
“You can’t take soap and water away from 800 kids,” said Judy Schumate, whose daughter attends Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS).
In response to issues with student-caused messes last year, SDMS hasn’t had soap dispensers in any of the student bathrooms since doors opened to students at the end of August.
“They started their school year like this,” she said.
Concerned by potential health risks, Schumate quickly contacted SDMS Principal Dr. Mel Ross. According to Schumate, Ross was dismissive of her worries, pointing out that the school installed hand sanitizer dispensers in its hallways to compensate for taking soap from student bathrooms. But Schumate felt that was only a half-measure. Ross did not return a phone call for comment.
“Germ-X is not the same as soap and water,” she said.
Schumate argued that taking soap away from all students because a few destructive individuals like messing up the bathroom was overkill. Besides worries over spreading germs, Schumate pointed out that middle school students are at a unique point between adolescence and adulthood.
In her opinion, removing the soap dispensers might lead to the development of bad habits, while also appearing somewhat condescending to the majority of students who can handle soap and water responsibly without feeling the urge to make a mess.
Schumate became frustrated enough in dealing with the school that she appealed to the Health Department, Worcester County Commissioners and the Board of Education directly.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes acknowledged that Schumate and other parents came to him with reservations about Ross’ decision.
“We had some parents express some concerns,” he said.
When asked if the school board had authorized the removal of soap dispensers, Andes said it had not, but board approval wasn’t necessary for the action, since it was a “school-based decision.” Andes also confirmed that SDMS was the only school in the county to remove soap from student bathrooms.
Though Andes did not criticize Ross for his choice, he did reveal that after reviewing the situation, the school has decided to install new motion activated soap dispensers and motion activated hand driers. The dispensers were placed this week with the driers likely going in next week.