Credit: Em Espey

The fact that two students were found intoxicated and unresponsive in a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School bathroom last month wasn’t particularly shocking to peers, according to interviews with multiple students and parents.

They say vaping, smoking, loitering and consuming alcohol in school bathrooms — sometimes referred to as “bathroom culture” — are all too common at B-CC.

The furor over a seven-hour delay in communication during last month’s medical emergency — a lag that was filled with rumors — has prompted a community meeting and the introduction of several new bathroom and hall pass policies.

The highly ranked public school serves desirable ZIP codes, and its alumni include judges, CEOs, legislators and a governor. But the problems there appear to be a microcosm of issues faced around the district.

The conversation around so-called bathroom culture comes amid a countywide spike in youth overdoses, many linked to the illicit use of fentanyl or the use of other drugs tainted with fentanyl. Montgomery County recently hosted its first Family Forum on Fentanyl, where hundreds of residents received free Narcan kits, training and information about substance use prevention. Five youths have died this academic year because of overdoses, according to MCPS.

B-CC junior and student reporter Katherine Jones told MoCo360 the use of marijuana and nicotine is commonplace on campus.


“At lunch, you can always kind of smell lingering weed,” she said. “It’s a scent that just kind of takes over.”

Jones, who reports for B-CC student newspaper The Tattler, said electronic vaping is especially popular because of how easy it is to smuggle the pens around campus. “You can do it anywhere,” she said. Bathrooms are a particularly popular spot to pass around a vape or a bottle of alcohol because of the shelter they provide from school supervision.

“Any time I go in the girls’ bathroom, there’s always a group of girls on the ground chatting,” Jones said. “Sometimes you can smell their nicotine or vapes.”


B-CC sophomore Aida Humphries told MoCo360 about having many friends “involved in bathroom culture” at B-CC and watching people’s grades plummet “because they spend all their time in the bathroom.”

Silver Spring resident Susan Rufe has two daughters at B-CC and a son coming up from eighth grade. She said her daughters have expressed concern about their brother attending B-CC and have already warned him to avoid the bathrooms during the day.

“Whenever we’re out as a family and they smell weed, they joke that it smells just like the B-CC bathrooms,” she told MoCo360.


The issue isn’t unique to B-CC. At last month’s fentanyl forum, one parent shared that his daughter at Clarksburg High avoids using the school bathrooms because of “rampant drug use.”

Northwood High’s Delina Kebede is running for student member of the school board and told MoCo360 that while campaigning she hears from many students who use substances like marijuana to cope with school stress.

“Students tell me all the time they take drugs to calm down,” she said, adding that it happens frequently on school grounds.


B-CC uses random bathroom checks and increased surveillance to “curtail inappropriate behavior,” Principal Shelton Mooney told MoCo360 in a written statement.

“Administration and security have been provided with iPads and access to the security camera systems for monitoring,” he wrote.

MCPS plans to reevaluate its security practices and potentially issue “systemwide improvements” to address bathroom safety concerns, spokesperson Jessica Baxter wrote to MoCo360.


“As standard practice, security staff are expected to sweep restrooms multiple times a day,” she wrote. “Schools can implement stricter security options if deemed necessary – from limiting certain bathrooms, requiring hall passes to removing doors to increasing surveillance.”

New bathroom policies ineffective, students say

B-CC recently updated its policy and no longer distributes hall passes during the first and last 10 minutes of class. Students and staff are also required to carry their school IDs on them at all times.


Jones said the changes seem “pretty correlated” with reports of bathroom vaping and loitering. When MoCo360 asked MCPS the reason for the change, the district provided the following statement:

“We are working to ensure that all students are in class, and this process is meant to allow us to focus on instruction.”

On top of the hall pass changes, B-CC students report finding bathrooms frequently locked without warning, leading to confusion and crowding.


“At any time, any bathroom could be locked,” Jones told MoCo360. “If a bathroom is locked, it’ll be locked for the entire day. It’s very random.”

Bennett Galper, fellow Tattler reporter and junior at B-CC, added that a locked door “feels counteractive” because it sends more students from one area of campus to another in search of a bathroom, increasing crowding and the likelihood of something like a vape being passed around.  

Somerset resident Matthew Zaft is the parent of a B-CC sophomore. In talking with his daughter, he said it seems the intermittent bathroom locking is “getting more and more intrusive and restrictive”—and isn’t solving the underlying issue of drug use.


“Basically, what my daughter tells me is there are kids who do bad things in the bathroom, and once the bathrooms were locked they started doing those things other places,” he said.

The day after the bathroom incident, Zaft said his daughter was “literally wandering around the school” trying to find an unlocked bathroom to use between classes.

Parents and students report receiving no communication from B-CC regarding the locked bathrooms or their purpose.


“There may be a laudable goal,” Nancy Enderby, parent of a B-CC junior, told MoCo360. “But they’re not telling us what the goal is.”

In response to an inquiry from MoCo360 about B-CC’s policy on locking bathrooms, the administration responded in an email:

“B-CC closes bathrooms on the second, third, and fourth floors during lunch to allow us to properly supervise the students who choose to remain on campus during lunch. That leaves at least four other sets of bathrooms open throughout the building for students to use.”


Searching for solutions

Some parents think the answer to curbing student substance use is for the Police Department to put school resource officers, or SROs, back into schools.

At the start of the 2020-21 school year, the county replaced SROs with a new safety model using community engagement officers, or CEOs. Currently, CEOs are stationed in strategic geographic areas near schools so that they’re poised to respond to campus incidents as necessary.


Christine Deerin, mother of a B-CC sophomore, told MoCo360 she believes SROs need to be reinstated.

“With all this illegal activity happening, why wouldn’t we want to put safety measures back in place that protected the majority of the population in schools?” she asked. “It seems like a no-brainer.”

She said she’s sent multiple emails to the county executive and council members asking for the SRO program to be reinstituted and has never received a response. She addressed most of her emails to County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At-Large), who proposed the 2021 bill that removed SROs from schools along with former County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At-Large).


Jawando told MoCo360 that he doesn’t believe SROs would solve safety issues or student substance use. Instead, he said MCPS needs to embrace a more “integrated approach” by focusing on increasing mental health resources and accessibility to support.

“When you have the right set of social supports, it reduces antisocial behavior,” he said.

Students like Jones and Galper suggested implementing updated health curriculum on the lasting effects of drug use as a possible solution. Multiple students said that the mandatory health education class in its current iteration is “kind of a breeze” to pass and barely touches on the topic of vaping.

“I feel like with how new these electronic marijuana devices are, there isn’t a lot of information about how it’s affecting people’s health,” Galper said.

Humphries offered a different student perspective, suggesting that more time and energy should be focused on what might be causing students to turn to drugs in the first place.

“You can get mad at a kid for using drugs in the bathroom, but it always stems from something,” Humphries said.

Following the bathroom incident, B-CC announced during Monday night’s community meeting that it would be installing QR codes on the bathroom doors so that students could easily report drug activity to staff with their smartphones.

Humphries expressed a desire to see B-CC seek student input in discussing ways to curb bathroom culture.

“In my opinion, the people who know the teenagers in the bathrooms best are other teenagers,” Humphries said. “If adults are making all of these decisions without communicating with us, I think we should do better.”