School Climate & Safety

School Removes Limit On Restroom Visits

By John Gehring — March 03, 2004 2 min read
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An unusual policy in a New Jersey middle school that restricted students to 15 restroom visits a month outraged parents so much that the school has changed the rule to remove that limit.

Administrators at the 600-student Lawrence Middle School in Lawrenceville, N.J., originally adopted the policy as a way to respond to a series of bomb threats at the school in November. Most of the threats were written on restroom walls. School leaders also were finding many students wandering hallways during class time after making requests to go to the restroom.

Hoping to create a more orderly environment, administrators crafted a plan that allowed 15 restroom visits each month on a hall pass. Students could also use the hall pass an additional 15 times for other purposes, and could use the restroom during lunch periods and gym classes without a pass.

But the strict restroom policy drew the ire of many parents. They said children would be afraid of using up their passes too quickly—and in some cases, they said, girls would stock up their passes so they would be available when they menstruated.

Susan Massaro, the president of the school’s parent-teacher organization, said the plan simply needed some tweaking.

“I thought it was a little strict,” Ms. Massaro said last week, although her own 7th grade son never complained about the policy. “It was hard on some of the kids. It needed to be revised.”

Nancy L. Pitcher, the principal of the school, addressed the controversy in a Feb. 20 letter sent home to parents.

“Although this pass system has virtually eliminated bomb threats and kept students in classes in our building, it has not been popular with some of our students and their parents,” she wrote. Ms. Pitcher explained in the letter that after a Feb. 17 meeting with parents and staff members, revisions had been made to the policy.

Researcher’s Warning

The new policy will “no longer specify the number of trips to the bathroom,” according to the letter, but will give students a choice in how they use the 30 slots on a hall pass during a given month.

“Of course, we will also continue to allow any student to make additional trips to the bathroom if it is an emergency,” the letter states.

Putting strict limits on restroom use may cut down on discipline problems. But according to a study published last September in the Journal of Urology, the practice can lead to infections and incontinence among students.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, an associate professor of urology at the University of Iowa and the study’s principal investigator, sent 1,000 surveys to public elementary teachers in Iowa. Nearly 80 percent of teachers reported having specific times for restroom breaks, and one-third said they asked children to wait if they requested such a break during class.

But pediatric problems associated with incontinence “can be socially devastating for children,” Dr. Cooper said in an Aug. 11 statement announcing the report. “However, very little seems to be known about it from the teachers’ standpoint. Most teachers aren’t trained to recognize that it can be a health or medical problem.”

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