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'Potty-Gate' Bill Requires Bathroom Dividers

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After a two-hour debate that has since become known as "potty-gate," the Georgia House has declared that even pre-kindergartners deserve a little privacy in the restroom.

The lawmakers agreed with a mother who complained that the open bathrooms at her daughter's preschool left too little to the imagination. A bill to require dividers between boys' and girls' toilets in all state-funded pre-K programs sailed through the House last month on a 138-30 vote.

Legislators weren't convinced by testimony from doctors and child-care specialists who argued that children of that age aren't old enough to worry about being ogled by the opposite sex.

"I have a problem with so-called experts who want to take someone else's children and tell them what they think is best for their child," said Rep. Gail Johnson, a Republican. "Before this came to us, I never even thought about it, but I just think it's wrong."

The controversy sprang from a complaint from a woman whose daughter attended a child-care center at Fort Valley State College, said Dorothy B. Conteh, a child-development professor at the college and its director of child-care programs. Although staff members agreed to take the child to a separate public bathroom next door, the mother requested privacy for all the children.

Supervision vs. Privacy

Opponents of the bill introduced by Rep. Robert Ray, a Democrat from Fort Valley, argued that the open arrangement protects young children from abuse and accidents because it allows supervisors to keep an eye on them at all times.

"The need for good supervision outweighs the need for privacy at that stage," Ms. Conteh said in an interview last week. Separate stalls would make it difficult for adults to assist the children when they need help, she added.

Barbara Willer, the public-affairs director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a Washington-based advocacy group, said that whatever policy is set, the reasons for it should be made clear and parents should be included in the debate.

"I don't know that there's really a right or wrong answer from the experts' point of view," she said. "But if parents are concerned about it, there is a reason for programs to be sensitive to it."

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