My daughter's middle school started up again earlier this week, and--as always--there was a flurry of forms for me to read and sign. This sheet asked for permission for the children to walk off campus with their teacher. OK, fine. That sheet made sure parents understand students will only receive 50% credit on tardy work. Yikes-- harsh, but understandable.
So I was signing paper after paper after paper when my pen came to an immediate stop. Before me, in very plain language, was a policy that, at best, can be termed barbaric, potentially dangerous, and incredibly insensitive. In fact, I was so shocked I had to read it again. So I did ...
"Students will be allowed to use the hall pass a maximum of 3 times per quarter. However, each use of the hall pass will cost the student 3 extra credit points. You will keep an individual hall pass log which must be presented each time a hall pass is issued. A lost log prevents the issuing of a hall pass and the awarding of any points."
Just in case there's any confusion, by daughter's school awards extra points for students who don't use the toilet during class. In other words, if my child needs the bathroom when her body naturally tells her it is time, she will be penalized by receiving a lower grade.
I am dumbfounded.
Yes, surely teachers become sick and tired of students leaving class to dilly-dally in the hallways. It can be disruptive and annoying, and the kids might miss important lessons during their absences. However, what's more distracting than sitting at a desk, squirming left and right, desperate to relieve oneself. While this policy may prevent hallway misadventures, it penalizes students who might actually need to use the bathroom.
Furthermore, the policy can have very serious side effects outside the classroom. Generally beginning in middle school, girls menstruate every month. There is no telling when the moment will strike. And there are often mishaps in management--particularly with youngsters learning how to handle the monthly flow. Teachers (especially female ones) should understand that delaying a trip to the bathroom is tantamount to branding girls with a scarlet letter.
Severe medical consequences can also arise from restrictive restroom policies. Children are more likely to have urinary tract infections, incontinence and chronic constipation. Children are struggling with constipation at near epidemic proportions, with some studies suggesting up to 30 percent of school-aged children affected. The cost for heath care and treatment for children with constipation is estimated at nearly $4 billion per year.
One common cause of constipation is withholding when the body signals it is time to go. A common side effect is encopresis, which is when a child involuntarily leaks stool. This can be humiliating, to say the least. Furthermore, typical treatment includes the use of laxatives that permit children to eliminate several times a day. Restricting bathroom access is going against the medical advice of any pediatric gastroenterologist.
While these policies are clearly damaging, they are sanctioned by school administration. Teachers and principals are under increased pressure to teach more, have students test better and outperform so classroom teaching time is precious. The problem is this policy is also against education law, as least it is in California where my children attend school.
The issue of students frequently leaving the classroom can easily be rectified without such insensitive policies. Some schools ask parents to provide doctor's notes for students who require more flexibility. This is ludicrous and embarrassing for students who may already be bashful about their condition. Teachers should require students to sign in and out each time they use the restroom. If a pattern emerges the teacher can intervene by discussing the lost learning time with the student. Teachers can also refer students to the school nurse as needed.
Don't make the vast majority of students suffer because some children use the hall pass as a chance to escape the classroom. Err on the side of children who are responsible and need the restroom, and deal with the abusers as they come. I wouldn't put up with this policy at work and our kids shouldn't have to in their schools.
A version of this blog previously appeared at The Family Coach.