School’s dirty toilets a health risk

Parents of Hazendal Primary School pupils say the school's toilets are unhygienic and making their children sick.

Pupils at an Athlone primary school are getting sick because the school’s toilets are a health hazard, say parents.

Two mothers, who spoke to the Athlone News on condition we didn’t use their names, accuse Hazendal Primary School of not doing enough to maintain the toilets.

Both mothers said the toilets stank of urine, and their daughters refused to use them because many girls at the school had picked up infections, and they believed the toilets were to blame. The mothers said their daughters now held their urine in all day until they could go to the toilet at home.

The one mother said parents had raised the issue with the principal in June last year, but nothing had been done.

Her daughter should feel comfortable to use the toilet at school, she said.

“The toilets cannot flush, and the entire area around the school stinks like urine. When are they going to do something about this? How many more pupils must get sick first?”

The other mother said the problem had been reported more than two years ago.

Her daughter had picked up an infection last month, and a pharmacist had confirmed it was caused by the child holding her urine in, she said.

“I feel that the school needs to make sure that the toilets are in a good working condition because our kids spend most of the day there. This is costing parents extra money to get to a pharmacy or doctor and meds.”

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School governing body chairman, Ian de Jongh, said the principal had been alerted to the problem last year but was now trying to shift responsibility to the governing body.

According to Mr De Jongh, the school’s cleaners are flushing the toilets with bottles of water because the cisterns are broken.

He said the principal blamed the issue on the school not having a foreman who could report problems to him.

“There is an acting foreman who has informed him of this. The cleaners are sick after they have to clean those toilets. They clean it but because of the condition of the bathroom it still stinks. The class right next door to the toilet even stinks because of the foul urine smell.” Principal Warren Rossiter said it would cost R70 000 to R80 000 to fix the toilets.

They had had push-button flushing mechanisms installed five years ago, when then school had been rebuilt by the Western Cape Education Department,

but the buttons broke frequently and it cost the school a lot to replace them all the time.

He would meet with the governing body to discuss the problem, and a plumber would replace the buttons with chains, he said.”I was not aware that children were getting sick because of this. The way they clean the toilets now is to mix chemicals with water in a bucket and throw it into the toilet and flush it manually. Previously we used our JoJo tank’s ground water to flush the toilets, which also created a stench as the WCED wanted us to save water, so that could’ve also contributed to the smell, but now we are back to using municipal water.”

WCED spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said the governing body was responsible for a school’s maintenance, including bathrooms, according to the South African Schools Act.

The governing body ought to appoint a sanitation team to inspect toilets daily, and WCED guidelines recommended the appointment of pupils as toilet monitors, she said.

“Learners have the right to clean, working toilets, but they also have the responsibility to use toilets correctly and leave them in clean, working order. Teachers are responsible for teaching learners about basic health and hygiene.They must teach learners how to use flush toilets and wash basins correctly.”

Cleaning and maintenance staff were responsible for cleaning and day-to-day maintenance of toilets and should report problems to the principal or sanitation committee.

The WCED allocated posts for support staff to schools including staff responsible for cleaning toilets, she said.

“Our circuit teams inspect toilets regularly as part of their routine visits to schools and discuss any concerns with school management teams. However, it is the responsibility of schools to ensure that school toilet facilities are maintained and stocked appropriately.”