Desks with graffiti: Where do they go?

Vandalized desks lead to extra work for custodians

Ask students and they will most likely tell you they have seen something written on a desk at school. Sometimes it’s a harmless, pencil-drawn doodle, and sometimes an offensive message carved into the surface.

But if anyone were to look over a period of weeks, these inscriptions do not last for long.
When twelve students in the hall and library were asked, not a single one knew where these desks go to have graffiti removed. Though it doesn’t cross the mind of most students, custodians have a considerable amount of extra work removing graffiti every night.

“[The custodians] have to sand basically anything with graffiti,” said Winnetka facilities manager Steve Linke. “We pretty much have a zero tolerance for graffiti. That way nobody has to make the decision if it’s offensive to somebody.”

Every night, as custodians clean rooms throughout the school, they scan for desks that have graffiti and remove them. They transport the graffitied desks to the basement using the elevators, and bring finished desks upstairs to replace them.

“They use a pretty fine-grit sandpaper so [the desk] looks dull, but it’s still smooth, so it’s good for [students] to write on paper on top of it,” said Linke.

Several hundred desks are kept in the basement, which comes in handy for replacing graffitied desks but also helps during large events like standardized testing.

“We always have a big supply of desks downstairs, and that way if there’s graffiti on a desk in your classroom, it just gets swapped out at night, but we won’t be short a desk,” said Linke. “But it’s still a lot of work; the custodians have to carry it all the way down to the basement, and bring another one upstairs.”

English teacher Brett Rubin believes that students write graffiti to rebel against authority figures, but they don’t realize the extra burden they place on custodians.

“I think there’s far more productive and edifying means for students to assert their independence and authority than leaving a meaningless tag on a piece of furniture that doesn’t belong to them and that will only require further labor from an individual who already works a great deal as it is,” said Rubin.
Custodian Odie Sanchez agreed that the graffiti is a nuisance, but considers it a part of his job.

“I see graffiti sometimes every day, every week, every month,” said Sanchez. “There is a lot of bad stuff written, inappropriate things about religion, and it’s not just on the desks. There’s things written on the floor, the walls, and it creates extra work for us.”