Free the Pee open forum answers questions, leaves changes uncertain

Student+Council+President+Nikhil+Kumaran+speaks+to+fellow+seniors+at+the+April+17+open+forum+discussing+SAHS+bathroom+closures.+
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Free the Pee open forum answers questions, leaves changes uncertain

Student Council President Nikhil Kumaran speaks to fellow seniors at the April 17 open forum discussing SAHS bathroom closures.

Student Council President Nikhil Kumaran speaks to fellow seniors at the April 17 open forum discussing SAHS bathroom closures.

Photo by Abby Banks

Student Council President Nikhil Kumaran speaks to fellow seniors at the April 17 open forum discussing SAHS bathroom closures.

Photo by Abby Banks

Photo by Abby Banks

Student Council President Nikhil Kumaran speaks to fellow seniors at the April 17 open forum discussing SAHS bathroom closures.

Abby Banks, Print Editor-in-Chief

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Monday, April 1 marked the date bathrooms at Stillwater Area High School closed during class times, except for those next to the Red, White and Black Pony Centers. After the viral success of the “letuspee” Instagram account protesting the closures, the administration held an open forum in the cafeteria on April 17 during flex time to facilitate students’ and administrators’ open dialogue.

This open forum was a reschedule of a cancelled forum a week earlier, a result of a visit from new governor Tim Walz happening concurrently. Closing the bathrooms was meant to protect students who felt unsafe because of other students’ vape habits and to curb the recently increased vandalism. Bach led the forum by answering student questions. Other staff were present to observe responses from both sides, including Assistant Principal Shelley Phernetton, who led the bathroom policy development and changes.

“There’s objectives for today,” Principal Rob Bach said. “Number one is just to improve or increase communications to make sure that you understand it, or something useful as to why it is. Number two – the mission is to brainstorm some ideas. Number three is trying to figure out what our action plan is.”

Bach opened the session by explaining the rationale behind the administrative policy, but did not give any concrete statistics about decreased vape usage in the school. When pressed by a student who asked what the benefit towards “redirecting traffic,” as Bach had phrased it earlier in the forum, he only said the incidents “have gone down as a response.”

Students are around other students constantly, every day; you never get a break. You always have eyes on you. You’re always in the classroom. You’re always surrounded by other people. Bathrooms give an opportunity just to like have a moment of silence and peace for a second.”

— Madeline Koltun

Complaints about missing class to walk to the nearest open bathrooms were widespread, with AP Government and Politics even discussing the Constitutional right of the school to close the bathroom. Students brought up about increased lines, asking about how to handle teachers’ irritations at students being gone for so long and spoke about the necessity of having a quiet space to process the day.

“As someone who has a 504 plan, I understand the struggles of anxiety and a bad day and the need for quiet space,” sophomore Madeline Koltun said. “Students are around other students constantly, every day; you never get a break. You always have eyes on you. You’re always in the classroom. You’re always surrounded by other people. Bathrooms give an opportunity just to like have a moment of silence and peace for a second.”

The school district has already begun to implement personal spaces, called “centers,” in the elementary schools via green rooms. However, there is nothing at the high school to give the same effect, barring the nurse’s office and the Wellness Center, services requiring a teacher’s pass which Koltun explained can make students nervous. The bathroom, Koltun said, was a easier safe space.

“It’s important to us to have that quiet space, but this is making the bathroom crowded and just generally taking away that opportunity,” Koltun added. “With some students, that can be really big.”

The Q&A portion ran long, and instead of presenting solutions, students submitted ideas through an online form created by Student Council. Though many questions flew at Principal Rob Bach, only Koltun was able to publicly propose a solution, doing so by giving up her question time.

“First of all: vaping. A lot of students actually struggle with addiction and closing bathrooms isn’t going to prevent that,” Koltun said. “I think our main focus should be getting counseling available and just be more open to students about the fact that there is help available to them.”

The “letuspee” Instagram account publicizes student-made memes, acting as a central voice for disseminating information on what student action will be. Ideas have ranged from encouraging students to be at the forum itself to garnering volunteers from their followers to pass out pins.

“Make sure to have ideas ready for the open forum today!” read the caption on their post the day of the open forum. “We need to come together to make the school give us our bathrooms back.”

No follow-up discussion has been set in order to discuss students’ suggested solutions.

“The next step after this is to have conversations with administration, see if we can be able to answer your questions and actually make sure that your voice is being heard when it comes to the actual problem, the problems that you guys feel like you’ve been faced,” senior Student Council President Abdul Mohamed said when ending the meeting.

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