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When Schools Crack Down on Bathroom Breaks

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The highly personal issue of school bathroom breaks is explored in a USA Today story about schools who don't let kids go any time they want. In attempts to crack down on kids who see bathroom breaks as a convenient way to meet friends and misbehave, some schools are limiting how many times students can head to the restroom. But these limits can sometime have "dire consequences" for children who really do need to use the bathroom, the newspaper reports. The story seems to have touched a nerve based on some of the comments posted on the USA Today Web site.

For more on the subject, the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics offers schools some thoughts on bathroom issues. Teachnet.com also provides teachers' real-world solutions to the question of what to do when children ask to be excused for a bathroom break.

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The USA Today Story certainly had plenty of ugly comments. While the urologist was concerned with younger children, I think this issue really becomes problematic at the upper grade levels. By middle and high school there are plenty of attractive things that can be done in the bathroom or out in the hallways and beyond.

As a substitute teacher I generally turned a deaf ear to the jumping around antics of grown children trying to convince me they couldn't "hold it." But this is really something that is best addressed with prevention. At the elementary level, either guaranteed access (such as the restrooms built into some kindergarten rooms), or frequently scheduled breaks. Even at the middle school this can be explicit (one middle school where I taught did schedule breaks for their 6th grade, as well as scheduling classes so as to limit the geography traversed when classes changed).

Instead, too many upper grades schools assume that their large size children have the abilities of adults and also build schedules that make no sense (my district cut the passing time to 2 minutes this year--so they could shorten the school day down to the minimum required by the state). It's no surprise that problems in the hallways and bathrooms have increased--kids have no permitted time for bathroom breaks, so they have to get permission based on the individual policies of each teacher. Some use passes as a reward for good behavior, some without question, and some not at all. The school's plan for responding to problems by the way is to "not allow" passes except for "emergencies." This brought no change--since it didn't respond to the real problem.

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