TRINITY — The Seven Spring Middle School eighth-graders warily eyed the white plastic bucket.
Is it for carrying cleaning supplies? Moving mulch?
Then they noticed the black plastic seat on top. Their eyebrows raised, their noses crinkled, as it dawned on them that this was a portable toilet, designed for use during emergency lockdowns in classrooms without restrooms.
"It's a terrible idea," Justin Anahory, 14, said, shaking his head. "No. I'm not going to use it."
"Never. Unh-uh," agreed Sydney Steele, also 14. "I would just hold it."
What if the students had no choice but to remain in their classroom for long hours for, say, extended hurricane conditions?
"I doubt a hurricane would keep us here a couple of days," Sydney said, noting she hardly will use the school bathrooms, much less a mini portable potty behind a tarp wall held up with duct tape.
"It might be a good idea," chimed in Mariah Guy, 15. "But it's still disgusting."
In recent months, the Pasco County school district has been distributing these "emergency response classroom kits" to schools that don't have restrooms adjoining the classrooms. For the most part, that means middle and high schools.
So far, they've given out 2,249, with another 552 remaining in the district warehouse. The total cost for the kits, which also include toilet paper, hand wipes, trash bags and latex gloves, was $64,876, or about $23 each. The money came from a two-year federal emergency management grant.
The Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas school districts have not made similar investments, and have no plans to do so.
"Along the food chain, that's probably somewhere below an amoeba," Hernando superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.
Pasco's grant also has paid for the emergency response plans revisions, and for other supplies such as bottled water and first aid kits. Student services director Lizette Alexander said it has helped the district improve its readiness.
"Try not to make it a joke," Alexander said of the bucket toilets. "When it is needed, it is needed terribly. It is not a joke. It is preparedness."
Still, it did create some laughter among Seven Springs middle schoolers as they discussed its pros and cons. Most had not seen the kits before and didn't know they were in the school.
Eighth-grader Brandan Comito, 14, sized up the bucket and wondered about its weight capacity.
He sat on it and found it held him up, but complained about the seat being too small.
"It needs to be thicker," he said, drawing chuckles from friends, who also wanted to test it out.
The kids engaged in detailed conversations about the logistics of the potty, ranging from concerns about germs to the aesthetics of such a bucket in mixed company.
"What if it gets filled to the top?" asked seventh-grader Kylie Renzetti, 12.
"It could be used as a weapon" against any intruder causing a lockdown, responded eighth-grader Dylan Johnson, 14.
Seventh-grader Devin Bird was not alone in his inability to get past the notion that kids might have to use the contraption "in front of people," never mind the tarp.
"It's a bit weird," he said.
Perhaps so, acknowledged schools superintendent Kurt Browning, who only learned Tuesday of the kits ordered by the previous administration. The buckets have been the brunt of jokes on Facebook since they arrived in schools.
But "if you've got to go," he said, "you've got to go."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.