toilets in school, “a public health problem” still unresolved

Dirty, poorly equipped or poorly guarded toilets… Eight out of ten children do not go to the toilet at school, a recent survey shows. For branches, the work is considerable.

When Élise comes home, she only has one thing in mind: “Go to the bathroom.” At 11 she never goes to the toilets at her school. She, who is about to enter the sixth grade, has not been there once last school year, nor in previous years. Since CE1, the little girl has been holding back.

“I don’t go there because there is rarely soap or toilet paper,” she explains to BFMTV.com. “It’s not very clean, the doors don’t lock and because there are no adults watching, the boys often come in.”

If she has an urge during class, she will hold it in until the evening. That is, from 7:30 am – when her parents drop her off at the school’s nursery – until 6:00 pm – when they come to pick her up.

“The problem is that she has become used to holding back,” worries her grandmother, with whom the girl spends holidays. “When I ask her to go to the toilet, she always replies, ‘I don’t want to’.”

What is not without consequences: the little girl regularly has urinary tract infections. Like Élise, eight out of ten children at school do not go to the toilet, a recent survey shows.

Working in the summer?

The Federation of Departmental Delegates of National Education (DDEN) remains alert to this issue. The education community’s thousands of volunteers also inspected the sanitation facilities of some 4,139 kindergartens and primary schools, with a view to presenting a report to Pap Ndiaye, the Minister of National Education in early September.

Can we hope that the situation will improve soon? Eddy Khaldi, president of the DDEN federation, assures that 15% of the inspected schools had planned work during the summer, especially at the water points.

The Ministry of Education seems aware of the problem: it made recommendations last February. Among others: a ratio of one cabin for ten students on a minimum of 24 m², an extra block near the playground, full height partitions to guarantee the privacy of the students, water points outside the toilet blocks or even the installation of coat hooks.

Toilets without soap or paper

Some of the ministry’s recommendations seem obvious: “Presence of toilet paper, soap, towels and trash cans (also in the cabins)”. And yet in reality this is not always the case.

“We’re more like a one-hut ratio for 30 or 40 students,” laments Laurent Zameczkowski of BFMTV.com, vice president and spokesperson for Peep, a federation of parent-teacher associations. “It sounds crazy, even more so in times of a pandemic, and yet there are still toilets where there is no soap or paper.”

The construction site seems significant. Some 67.5% of schoolchildren do not find the toilets in their school a pleasant place, according to the ministry’s 2021 public consultation “building the school together”.

“There is an emergency,” BFMTV.com denounced Nageate Belahcen, vice chair of the Federation of Parent Teacher Councils (FCPE). “The toilets are the black point of the school.”

“A public health problem”

The question is all the more complicated because several skills are involved, admits Lydia Advenier, member of the executive committee of the National Union of National Education Management Staff (SNPDEN) and director of a secondary vocational school in Lyon. “The ministry does not have the capacity to decide or act, it is the communities that have the power,” she explains to BFMTV.com.

In this case: municipalities for kindergarten and primary schools, departments for colleges and regions for secondary schools. These communities own the buildings and are responsible for maintenance and logistics.

And that’s the problem, says FCPE’s Nageate Belahcen. Because not all branches are in the same boat. “The budget can differ per municipality,” she sums up. “This creates territorial inequalities.” It therefore calls for a national emergency plan and calls on the State to intervene in this.

“It’s a fundamental problem and a public health issue. The state needs to get involved. We know the diagnosis, the ministry’s recommendations are useless as long as the communities are not further encouraged, not even coerced.”

Case-by-case solutions

On the branch heads side, we make sure to do our very best. At Michael Vidaud’s school, in Tournon-sur-Rhône (Ardèche), work was done last year to add sanitary facilities – four boys’ cubicles, four urinals and eight girls’ cubicles – instead of a technical room. But he acknowledges that not all institutions can necessarily carry out this work.

“It all depends on the configuration of the property,” BFMTV.com tells this member of the national board of the SNPDEN. “We are often limited by space, water piping issues and we have nowhere to install sanitation, especially for surveillance and security issues.”

Recognizing that sanitation management is “not easy,” this school principal ensures that communities are attentive, “case-by-case” solutions are found, and the issue is taken seriously. Michael Vidaud specifically mentions the issue of toilet paper.

“When you install a new roll in college, it often disappears within an hour to end up in balls stuck to the ceiling or bottom of sinks,” he laments.

“We could sometimes put paper back every hour, it’s a real concern and we’re a bit torn,” continues the director. “If we’ve chosen to renew it regularly, there’s a price.”

Some school principals also want to listen to their students’ requests. Such as in the secondary school of Lydia Advenier, in Lyon, where a distributor of periodic protections – recommended in the document of the ministry – was installed in the girls’ toilets. A request made by the High School Life Council of Representatives.

“Those who are punished are the children”

But for Laurent Zameczkowski, van de Peep, the issue of sanitation is still too often taken lightly. “Some communities ignore it and seem surprised when we bring up problems. They blame. But for us it doesn’t matter who pays. Because in the end it is the children who are punished.”

The representatives of the parents of pupils come up with various short-term solutions, such as having the toilets open all day – and not just during breaks – their constant supervision by an adult or even creating a post of responsible for the toilets that can be visited several times. are responsible for cleaning and replenishing them per day.

Nageate Belahcen, of the FCPE, calls for toilets to be considered a place of living and reception.

“There are colleges that close the toilets during class hours, others where you have to get toilet paper during school life, with the humiliating and stigmatizing situations this can cause,” laments this representative of the parents of ‘pupils’

“We wouldn’t do that to adults,” she concludes. “Why do we impose it on children?”

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