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Vandalism keeps soap out of Md. schools

December 17, 2003|by DAVID DISHNEAU

Frequent hand-washing to fight the spread of influenza is elementary, but it's a challenge at many schools, where soap dispensers have been removed from student bathrooms to curb vandalism.

Public schools aren't required to provide soap, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Local administrators must find their own solutions to such problems, said Vicki Taliaferro, a state school health services specialist, said.

"It becomes more of an administrative issue than a health issue," she said.

Taliaferro said she didn't know which or how many schools around the state have banned bathroom soap but she knew why: Vandalism and pranks that include sliding across soap-slicked floors, filling toilets with suds and plugging commodes with wads of paper towels.

Some schools have installed sinks outside bathrooms, Taliaferro said. Others keep bottles of liquid soap or waterless anti-bacterial gel in classrooms to regulate students' use of the products.

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Melanie Pratt, school nurse at Beall Elementary in Frostburg, Md., told The Associated Press she installed hand sanitizer dispensers in the health room, near the cafeteria entrance and at a sink outside a student bathroom. A company provides the dispensers and gel at no cost in exchange for empty printer cartridges and old cell phones that Pratt sends in for recycling.

"We've had a good response," she said Tuesday. "Maybe it's a novelty, but they seem very interested in using it."

The student bathrooms still have conventional soap, she said.

Similar dispensers are in place in all 12 classrooms at Greenbrier Elementary School in Boonsboro, said Carol Mowen, a spokeswoman for Washington County Public Schools.

Greenbrier's bathrooms also have soap, she said.

"This is just an added piece of protection that the Greenbrier PTA has funded," Mowen said.

Doris Ann Bittner, supervisor of the Allegany County (Md.) school nurse program, said bathroom vandalism is nothing new.

"With the flu, it's just that it's come to everyone's attention right now," she said.

With flu vaccine in tight supply across the country, public health officials are urging people to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly to fight the spread of germs.

"It's even more important now with the flu that we try to make sure that students have access to soap or sanitizer," Bittner said.

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