Ongoing vandalism of bathrooms at the Nantucket Public Schools - including hundreds of vape pens flushed down toilets - have cost the school system more than $100,000 over the past year. The situation reached a breaking point this week, prompting school administrators to call for an "emergency meeting" on Thursday with parents to emphasis just how bad the problem has become.
The items continuing to be flushed down the toilets by students include vape pens and cartridges, folders, various types of fruit, AirPod cases, notebook paper, balloons, clay, cat litter, plastic bags, tampon applicators, and even two Whaler t-shirts. Bathrooms have been closed on numerous occasions as a result, and the required repairs to the school's sewer pump system have now eclipsed six figures.
On Thursday, Vasil emphasized that she and the entire school administration have had enough of the "disrespect" being shown to the school by the student body, and they have begun discussing a wide variety of solutions and consequences to get to the root of the problem.
“If we don’t have these repairs done, we can’t keep the school open,” Vasil said to dozens of parents at a meeting after school on Thursday. “This is not chump change. This is a lot of money and the money we are spending to fix these sewer damages is taking away from other materials we would like to purchase to help students with their education.”
There have been a number of bathroom closures since last year, including two student bathrooms and one staff bathroom. Bathroom doors were taken down by the school earlier this year in an attempt to solve the problem.
The most recent vandalism came this week as the school realized the water was continuing to run in the bathrooms. The pump motor was not running properly, and it led to the school’s facility staff having to shut down the pump and call in a plumber and the DPW to assess the situation.
They learned vape pens had been flushed into the system and were trapped in the motor. As these items get stuck in the pump ejector, they either shut down the motor or it continues to rotate, causing the motor to eventually burn out.
Nantucket Public Schools' facilities and grounds director Diane O’Neil said they have had to replace the pump three times in the last two months. Each instance has cost the school between $3,500 to $5,000. In response to this week’s damages, the school ordered a replacement and a backup pump so they can be prepared in case this happens again.
“I really hope we don’t have to use that backup,” Vasil said.
Vasil explained to parents that the amount of money being spent on repairs is more than a teacher’s salary and displayed a list of alternative items that the money could be used for to help optimize a students' experience in several vocational courses. Vasil said she used these examples due to the popularity the school's vocational courses among students in an effort to encourage them to come together to end the vandalism.
“This is not just a school problem. It is an all of us problem,” Vasil said fighting back tears. “This is a small number of kids doing this.”
The school's administrators are discussing a multitude of avenues they believe could stop the vandalism. During a meeting with students during the school day on Thursday, Vasil said they discussed the possibility of using outdoor porta-potties on school grounds. The school has determined that they would need to order and maintain seven of them to accommodate the number of students at the high school.
“I do not want to see that happen,” Vasil said. “We would have to ask teachers to monitor these outside.”
Vasil said she refuses to put teachers in the position to stand in the bathrooms and take turns monitoring their activity for privacy reasons both for the students and the teachers.
Vasil took questions from the parents in attendance and a number of suggestions were made to help combat the problem. One parent suggested taking away student’s ability to go to sporting events after school until the problem is resolved. Parents feel that in order to get students to take the matter seriously that they need to begin losing privileges and/or materials that are important to them, such as attending home sporting events.
Vasil said the message she wants parents to deliver to their kids in the coming days is to report something when they see something. She said students do not need to report names but instead can report a time they saw a student flushing a vape pen or other items down the toilet so the school can look at surveillance footage outside of the restrooms.
Nantucket High School assistant principal Jenn Psaradelis said that she has had discussions with other schools and has learned the activity is not unique to Nantucket and that many schools are dealing with the same issue, albeit on a more minor scale that isn’t requiring major plumbing issues to be resolved.
Psaradelis said she has confiscated 75 to 100 vapes herself over the past five to six years and that it is a diverse range of students using them. The usage of vapes by Nantucket students is an entirely different issue that will require the entire community's aid in resolving. Vasil said she believes kids are flushing the vape pens out of fear of getting caught in possession of one since it is against the law for them to have one.
Psaradelis said the discipline being handed out by the school for kids caught with vape pens has been progressive and varies based on the student’s history.
Vasil ended the meeting saying that she will be sending more emails out with additional information to students and parents. Parents also asked Vasil about a possible parent committee to craft possible solutions to the problem and Vasil said she will be sending a notice out to gauge parent interest.