By Abigail Chow
The challenge of making time to go to the bathroom during school requires a certain amount of forethought and planning. Teachers do their best to create a healthy and orderly learning environment for students. In various ways they generally encourage students to take in-class bathroom breaks sparingly; however, even if you carefully analyze your travel time from class to class and identify the perfect passing period to make a quick pit stop, nature doesn’t always cooperate. For some of our fellow Trojans, that became a problem.
Each teacher has a unique teaching and classroom management style. While some teachers have built in work time during class, others use the entire class time to cover the lesson and believe students can’t afford to miss any instructional time. Using the bathroom during class can not only disrupt a student’s own learning, but also the learning of their classmates. Creating space to accommodate unexpected situations or medical needs can be a challenge that competes for the teacher’s attention.
For students, keeping track of the number of bathroom breaks any given teacher allows during a semester adds to the complexity of what is a generally a simple decision. Some teachers convert unused bathroom passes into extra credit, creating one more thing to think about: your grade. Plus, there’s FOMSI: Fear of Missing Something Important during those crucial moments when you’ve excused yourself.
The Torch has interviewed various sources to inform readers of their position and why they took it.
During her sophomore year, an anonymous source had an unfortunate experience with one of her teacher’s policies. At the beginning of each semester, the teacher entered 15 extra credit points into the gradebook for each student. Each time a student used a bathroom pass, they would lose five points of that extra credit. This student was in a precarious situation because her grade was a low B with the extra credit in place. At the time, Jenks High School still had block days, during which three classes would meet for two hours each. This was one of those days.
“I had to go to the restroom basically the entire two hours, but I didn’t want to lose my points,” says our source. “I held it in for so long that by the time I had decided to just go to the bathroom, I was too scared to get up out of fear that I would urinate on myself. I know this is kind of crass, but as we all know, you can’t hold your urine in forever. So, unfortunately, I just peed myself.”
Although no one noticed, she said it was terrifying to have to walk from the classroom to the building six bathroom, then call her sister to borrow clean clothes, which made her late to advisory.
“I can’t help but think all of this wouldn’t have happened if I had been given bodily autonomy in this class,” says the student on her final remark.
Freshman Claire Cropper was upset when her Science teacher emailed her after she’d used two bathroom passes this semester. She only had three left, he reminded her, and if she used more than five she would get a detention. As she understood it, the bathroom passes were set up to convert into extra credit for students who didn’t use them. She was surprised that needing to go to the bathroom more would result in punishment. Cropper emailed the teacher to let him know that she might need more access to the restroom during certain times of the month. With that particular class being in the middle of her school day, she would likely need more than five passes.
“I have to change my tampon sometimes because I don’t want to bleed through and have my mom have to bring me new pants and stuff, ” says Cropper.
Cropper pointed out that in her Science class, students are not allowed to take their phones with them to the restroom, which she feels cuts down on the temptation to just take a break from class. Having such a restrictive bathroom policy creates an awkward situation when a female student has to negotiate with a male teacher over bathroom use.
Lesleigh Clayton, who teaches Pre-AP English 10 and English 11, has a more lenient bathroom policy. She requires her students to sign in and out on a Google spreadsheet before and after they go to the restroom; however, they can go whenever they want, preferably when she’s not teaching. As long as they’re back in a timely manner, she respects the students’ need to use the restroom.
“I feel like I’m teaching young adults and I don’t need to be asked for a bathroom pass,” says Clayton. “I remember when I was in high school, and not being able to use the restroom when I wanted to between breaks because it was too crowded.”
While Clayton has had some issues with a couple of students in the past, she resolved them on an individual basis. She doesn’t want her students to be uncomfortable in her class when they need to use the restroom.
“My policy is: it exists the way that it exists until there is a problem. If there are too many problems, I have to go back to being very strict and rigorous, like one at a time, you have to ask, keeping track of that,” says Mrs. Clayton. “But as it is now, it works. I realize that not everyone’s the same. All I know is what works best for me. I don’t want any teachers to think that I know what’s going on in their classrooms because I have no idea.”
The Torch interviewed Doctor Richard Gordon, a local pediatrician, to get his perspective on this situation.
“There may be some medical issues that dictate that students should have ready access to bathroom facilities and those should be addressed on a case-by-case basis with good communication among the doctor, the parents and students and the teachers,” says Dr. Gordon.
The bigger issue to him was respect. In the workplace, “Adults don’t have to ask to use the restroom. If they were in a meeting, they would quietly leave,” says Dr. Gordon.
He believes that students should be treated in the same way but realizes that some students may take advantage of this freedom for the wrong reason. However, he thinks this issue should be addressed on an individual basis. His solution would be for the teacher and the students to sit down and discuss the bathroom policy at the beginning of the year to get on the same page.
“It’s weird to say it’s a privilege to go to the bathroom cause I feel like everyone should be able to go to the bathroom,” says Katharine Hart, a Junior at JHS. “Obviously, there’s some students who take advantage of that and go excessively, which is not acceptable because they’re just using it as an excuse to get out of class. But I think we’re all high schoolers, we’re all people, you’ve got to take care of your business.”
Like many students, Hart understands why there is a bathroom policy but also acknowledges how limited it can be.
“It’s restricting just because if you do it too much, they might not let you use the restroom when you actually need to,” says Hart. “But, I think bathroom passes help with that cause you just use them up and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
While there can be some detrimental effects of bathroom passes, there can also be some benefits to them. Having a limited number of times to go to the restroom coaches students to think carefully about whether a particular trip to the bathroom is urgent or not. Minimizing traffic in and out of the classrooms can help everyone focus and reduce the number of factors the teachers have to track as they’re teaching. In cases where teachers offer extra credit, students can earn points to boost their grade.
Joy Edwards, an English 11 and AP Lang teacher, has a flexible approach to bathroom breaks with some restrictions. Every quarter of a semester, her students get three bathroom passes worth ten points of extra credit each. Plus, if it isn’t right in the middle of instruction and she can tell that it’s an emergency, they can just go. However, as she establishes at the beginning of the year, her students may not go to the restroom during a test unless everyone has submitted theirs to prevent disruption in the classroom.
“I just don’t want anybody trying to get into a habit of missing instructional time, so it gives them a motivation to stick around if it’s not an emergency,” says Edwards. “They don’t really lose any real credit, but it gives them the choice to fill in some potholes in their grade if they stay around, and they do better anyway because they’re here to hear my instructions, so I think it’s a good motivator.”
At Jenks, the school administration allows teachers to formulate their own bathroom policies because every classroom is different. Teachers have different styles of teaching. One can teach the whole hour, while one can teach a workshop, where there is time left to work on homework and ask questions.
“It’s important for teachers to have the authority to establish a practice that works best for their classroom because all teachers are different. Almost every teacher runs their classroom a little bit differently in terms of how they teach and what kind of practices and procedures they have in the classroom,” says David Beiler, the Site Principal for Jenks High School. “Just like any medical situation or condition a kid has, whether it’s for feminine needs or for needs that someone can have for a medical situation, we just need to be sensitive to that and if they really need to go to the restroom, let them go to the restroom.”
In this difficult situation, it is hard to draw a definite boundary that encompasses different classroom settings and accommodates unexpected or urgent situations. Jenks tries to meet the needs of their students and respect the teacher’s efforts to manage the classroom well.
“The ultimate goal is to protect instructional time and balance the need for instructional time with legitimate needs that our kids, students, need to have in regards to needing to go to the restroom,” says Beiler.
One way students and teachers can solve this problem is by understanding each other’s side and communicating. If it’s an emergency, the teachers should be able to recognize it. To students, it’s a privilege to use the restroom during class, so they need to respect that so that their classmates can have the privilege as well.
Disclaimer: Although the Torch contacted multiple teachers in order to represent their thoughts on bathroom policies and incidents that may have shaped their policies, only the teachers quoted in this article responded for comment. Each student’s story is according to their own personal