Oregon Elementary School’s Pay-To-Pee Policy Was A Horrible Idea

89075233Some Oregon parents were outraged when they found out this week that teachers were were essentially “charging” their students to use the restroom. Kids earn “Super Pro” bucks in class, and have to hand them over for bathroom breaks. If kids don’t use potty breaks wisely, they have to “pay” for their breaks with their super bucks. One parent says this policy was responsible for her daughter wetting her pants in the classroom. I’m going to have to agree with her.

The students earn Super Pro bucks for different achievements and can use them to buy trinkets in the school store. Apparently – as evidenced by a child who opted to hold her pee so long she wet her pants – they’ll do anything to hang onto these “bucks.”

Melissa Dalebout says her daughter, Lily, a first-grader, had an accident at school. Lily was trying to hold her urine… ”I just feel my children should not be punished for having to use the bathroom, even if they didn’t take advantage of a recess break because they may not have been thinking of it. “They’re children,” says Dalebout.

At Cascades Elementary, teachers employ other payment strategies, as well.  If kids use the bathroom outside the three designated break times, they can lose two minutes of recess.

I’m an adult and even I can’t pee on demand. What if the kids just don’t have to go during recess? I understand some kids could potentially take advantage of this, but shouldn’t a teacher be able to use his or her judgement to figure that out?

Parents Sarah and Brian Palkki say that it’s more punishment than payment in their daughter’s class.

“She was crying one morning, because she felt her tummy to be a little sour,”  says Sarah Palkki, “so she was thinking that she might have to use the restroom at school.”

I don’t want my child to develop strange bathroom habits because teachers have him on a bathroom rewards program. Not okay. I understand rewarding good behavior, but this bathroom break policy does not sit well with me. If my child wet his pants because of this, I would be pissed. I would be equally pissed if my child was upset at the thought she may have to use the bathroom outside of one of the designated break times.

Dr. Bruce Birk is a Portland pediatrician. He says that there’s consensus in the medical community on this issue.

“It would be chaos in a classroom for teachers not to have a system,” says Birk. “Holding in the classroom in between well-established potty breaks has not been shown in any sense of the word to be harmful to kids.”

I disagree. So does the staff at the elementary school. They have since changed their “rewards” policy.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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    • Mel

      While I agree that threatening the kiddos that they will lose recess or prizes is not a perfect plan, I also empathize with the staff who are just trying to keep some level of order and stop the kids from getting up every couple of minutes to go to the restroom.

      We all know they do it. We did it in school. It was more fun to take the pass and walk to the potty than sit in boring old class! Besides, what were the teachers/cafeteria monitors gonna do, tell us no?! We practically dared them. I think it’s part of teaching responsible behavior to expect the kids to learn that pottying during the breaks is the plan, and unless you’ve got a note that says you’re sick that day, or it’s the exception rather than the rule that you need to pee in the middle of class (and, teachers know which kids are telling the truth and which are taking advantage) you’re not getting the pass 5 times an hour to goof off. Now, the teachers MUST take on their part by reminding the kids every single time that this is the break. Just like when you leave the house or a restaurant, you remind your kid to use the potty first.

      I’m sure this won’t be popular, and full disclosure: I obviously and not a parent, so I know my opinions will be taken with a grain of salt by most. I’m totally fine with that. I’m just put putting my two cents out there!

      • LiteBrite

        “I obviously and not a parent, so I know my opinions will be taken with a grain of salt by most.”

        First of all, stop with that nonsense. Just because you’re not a parent doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion.

        Second, I’m a parent, and I agree with you on this. This plan was not well thought out, but I too sympathize with teachers who are just trying to keep some semblance of order. My son is in kindergarten. There are 12 kids in his class. I can’t imagine the chaos that would ensue if all of them had to go to the bathroom at different times.

        I’m also thinking that if he had to “pay to pee” he’d be running in the red every damn week. That kid is a bathroom machine.

      • Mel

        Thanks for that :) I just want to be clear to y’all that I’m aware that my limited understanding of the real-life parenting thing will often lead to me being way off base. So, I feel confident in my opinion, right up until an actual parent points out my glaring error!

        And, I’m glad to hear that I’m not totally wrong in thinking that often the precious snowflakes are likely taking advantage of the system, leading to chaos and frustration. Still, a plan that doesn’t encourage fear, shame, or pants-peeing needs to be figured out.

      • Alexandra

        Agree with Lite Brite …I’m not a parent (just yet) and have TONS of opinions on how children should be handled hahahaha!! Mostly from seeing actual parents doing things in a way that seems very strange…..
        I also agree with you! :)

      • Mel

        Wow, I’m feeling all kinds of love here today! Congrats on your almost-children :)

    • Muggle

      It’s one thing for a kid to hold it between designated bathroom breaks. It’s another thing entirely when the kid HAS to go and it’s going to be a long time until another designated break. FFS if a kid says they have to go to the bathroom, they have to fucking go, let them!

    • pixie

      I understand having a system so kids don’t abuse bathroom breaks, but if the kid is doing the potty dance, it’s probably a good idea to let them go to the bathroom. A kid might be embarrassed to ask to go to the bathroom if they think they are going to be denied, but it will save them further embarrassment if the teacher notices something is up and allows them to go. I know teachers are vastly outnumbered in the classroom and it can be difficult to keep an eye on every single one of them, but with my experience with kids (helping teach 40-50 7-10 year olds martial arts) it’s usually pretty easy to spot one doing the potty dance.

    • Alexandra

      I think designated breaks are ok, but if these kids are trying not to use these “bucks” so that they can then use them at the student store, and are getting a UTI or other “back-up” as a result, that’s the problem. The two things should be separated. What ever happened to raising your hand and using the pass? One student at a time? There was never “chaos” using this method when I was growing up;…..

      • A-nony-mous

        I don’t think it’s the Teachers coming up with these things. It sounds more like a school administrator or even a Sentor’s idea. Someone higher up in the bureaucratic ladder. Especially if we’re talking about the little guys in Elementary school, I have trouble imagining any teacher being cruel enough to basically hold bathroom privileges hostage.

        I don’t agree with it at all. I understand that it’s annoying to have children constantly coming and going but when it’s for something like the bathroom…can’t we just give the benefit of the doubt? My little guy I guess has a small bladder and goes pee every 40 minutes or so at home.

        Even if the occasional child is using it to take a walk or sit for a few minutes (without actually going to the bathroom)….is that really the end of the world? Chances are it’s better for the child to take a 5 minute walk, stare at the walls and get out their energy than be forced to sit where they’re probably going to be far more disruptive and annoying. If it comes to a point where specific children are repeatedly leaving and clearly spending lots of time wandering the school than Teachers (and the school) can deal with that that individually. Basically punishing everyone based on something that *might* happen is sad and even dangerous. These children are going to wet (and possibly defecate) in their pants, or hold it and end up with UTIs or constipated.

      • keelhaulrose

        I agree to a point, but kids are in school for a purpose, and a kid walking out of class under the guise of using the bathroom to wander may soon learn to abuse the privilege. Should we condone a child missing half an hour or more a day to wander and get their energy out because they should be able to if they “need” to?
        I’m all for the occasional potty break outside the set break times, but the idea of kids getting free reign to walk out and wander makes me uncomfortable.

      • Magrat

        I think A-nony-mous addressed that. “If it comes to a point where specific children are repeatedly leaving and clearly spending lots of time wandering the school than Teachers (and the school) can deal with that that individually.”

    • keelhaulrose

      A first grader is very young, but at some point kids do have to learn to hold it a bit. Though I wouldn’t really consider it until middle or high school. In elementary I doubt there’s many kids who would abuse the privilege, but I distinctly remember a boy in my high school disappearing for most of a period on a “bathroom break” (we had parapros in the halls, so he must have legitimately been in the bathroom) and returned with five minutes late saying he had a “wicked duce”.
      Younger kids should be able to go when needed, but at some point it’s not unreasonable to put some restrictions on it (medical conditions excluded).

      • Paul White

        My middle school had 5 minute passing periods, not enough bathrooms, and was a physically large buildings (4 stories–it was very tall with a fairly small footprint).

        You flat couldn’t use the bathroom during passing periods unless you were the first one into them.

        Now, high school was in the same building, but we had 10 minute passing periods and it wasn’t a big deal. But I can see kids simply not being able to get to and use the bathroom in the allotted time depending on school facilities.

      • shel

        Our Junior high also had like 4-5 minute passing periods, and no other times for “breaks” since there wasn’t recess or anything like that at that level(aside from lunch anyway)… I remember in like 8th grade they started giving us planners that had 5 little boxes per semester that you could use for a bathroom break, which seemed really ridiculous, especially for teenage girls just figuring out how to deal with periods and the like… that’s something that requires a little extra time in the bathroom and can’t wait all day long! Luckily they changed the policy within the first year, and we had some very understanding teachers.
        I agree that there should be some rules, but it can’t be so iron clad that kids are having accidents or made to choose between peeing or a reward.
        And in my opinion as a pediatrician, while it’s okay for kids to work on “holding it” if there are too many restrictions or kids worrying about it too much, it can lead to all sorts of dysfunctional bathroom habits, constipation etc.

      • pixie

        I was also thinking about girls getting their periods, which can happen in elementary school (5th graders, mostly, though I knew a girl who got it in 2nd grade). I remember my first periods when I was 12/13 and my body decided it was going to give me super heavy periods. I went to a K-8 school so we had the same breaks as the younger kids. Some of the teachers would let me go to the bathroom when I needed to, but others didn’t understand why I seemed to go to the bathroom more than they thought I should (though a couple of the female ones were a little more understanding when I privately explained my predicament).

      • Bianca

        I’ve been teaching elementary school a long time, and they definitely try to abuse bathroom breaks as early as kindergarten. They all learn to fake the emergency dance. Usually their acting sills don’t past muster, however, but they certainly try.

      • keelhaulrose

        And here I thought my kindergartener had a magic blade that only worked when in time out our asked to clean :)
        I know they lie, but, and this might just be the kindergartens I’ve seen, the kids like what they’re doing enough they don’t want to use the bathroom.

    • Magrat

      I kind of remember there being designated bathroom breaks, besides recess, in elementary school. Like, right before lunch and right before school got out (because a lot of us were bused so we wouldn’t have time otherwise), the teacher would send us to the bathroom in groups. I don’t remember any time in particular, but I’m sure that most teachers would let kids go other times if they really needed to. Most teachers aren’t dicks, and they don’t want to deal with a kid peeing their pants, anyway. But most of the time you get into the schedule and it isn’t a problem.

      • Aldonza

        I do theatre with kids and generally our policy is to have designated breaks for snack/bathroom/chatting during a rehearsal, and then the odd kid that needs to take a bathroom break during the rehearsal can go as long as it’s not distracting or at a really inappropriate moment. Once we get into full runs the kids are warned that there are only certain times they will be able to use the bathroom so the best bet is to “safety pee” when they have a chance.

    • Fuzzy Dolphin

      This will lead to prostitution as well

    • kay

      I think it’s good to be reasonable about it-I’ve worked with kindergarteners and I think there’s nothing wrong with telling them to wait a minute or two. There are kids who use bathroom passes as a reason to go play, they miss instruction, etc. But it’s also easy to be reasonable about it. I’ve seen lots of simple policies-you can’t for 10 minutes after it’s been a bathroom break, you need to wait until carpet time/direct instruction is over, etc. When you wholesale make leaving to go to the bathroom a Big Deal like this does though it creates more trouble than it saves (kid wetting their pants is worse and more distracting than kid missing 3 minutes of math)

      One thing I tell people when they ask me about things you want in a kindergarten classroom is BATHROOMS. It’s stupid, I know things like who their teacher is will make a bigger difference, but an in-classroom bathroom makes an early childhood classroom run SO MUCH smoother. I worked at a school where all the K-2 classrooms had a bathroom. We wasted so much less time on potty break rules.

      • Katie L.

        I would kill for a bathroom in my classroom. It would be so much simpler and I wouldn’t have to have conversations with parents about why their son was climbing over the stalls.

      • kay

        It’s the greatest thing. Bathrooms for all!

    • Alex

      I’m a teacher, and I have to disagree. Many teachers at this school use a similar policy, especially when the kids go to their “specials” classes (music, P.E., etc.) because the classes are only 30 minutes long, and any amount of time missed to go to the bathroom can mean they missed an important part of class. They make a point to take them on bathroom breaks before and after specials. It works pretty well for the grades I teach (2nd and 3rd). It probably wouldn’t be as wise to use it for kindergarten, and I’m guessing they use a different system. By 2nd grade, the students know that it’s smarter to spend their money (or whatever the reward is) and go to the bathroom if they can’t hold it, than to have an accident in class. Also, if it gets to the point where they can’t possibly hold it, they USUALLY have been holding it for a while, and could have gone during their bathroom break or recess. If it was a situation where the child had a UTI or other illness, I’m sure they would make an exception.

      Maybe adults can’t “pee on demand,” but we do have to wait to use the bathroom during times that can’t be interrupted, or use the bathroom beforehand. (A long road trip, for example?)

      Also, teachers have to train themselves to pee only at certain times. There might be more teachers that read this and agree with me.

      • Alex

        Correction: Many teachers at MY school. Oops. :)

      • Katie L.

        I have reached a point with my students that I flat out tell them if they do not use the (many) opportunities they have during the day to take care of their bodies, then they need to wait until we are not doing whole group instruction. If it is a work time I let them go one at a time.

        And teacher bladder is a real thing. I swear when summer break hits my bladder goes into overdrive from the sheer joy of being able to pee whenever.

    • Fireinthefudgehole

      Maybe I’m biased because I peed myself in the middle of class in second grade (while waiting for my turn with the hall pass) but bathroom restrictions have always been a huge pet peeve of mine. I think it’s upsetting to think of any kid being so worried about getting in trouble that they’ll pee their pants.

    • Guest

      I’m a kindergarten teacher, and I feel like I’ve established some pretty good bathroom policies with my kids- they know (and are reminded frequently… meaning daily) that the best times to go are in the morning while they are waiting for me to get them, during lunch and recess, during snack, and during play time. They also know that our school policy is only two children out at a time, so it’s best not to wait until it’s an emergency. They know that there is no bathroom (with the exception of emergency, and I know my kids well enough now to know when it’s a legitimate emergency) during morning meeting, and during lessons, but they can go once independent/group work time starts. Proud to say that I’ve had minimal accidents- less than 10 since September.

    • Audrey

      I work as a sub, so I’m in and out of different classrooms every day. You just can’t let them go whenever they want, so there obviously has to be a system in place. I think where they went wrong here is tying it into a rewards system. Most of the classrooms I’ve been in have either designated bathroom times, or some kind of rule where you can only sign out for the bathroom a certain amount of times in any given day (obviously exceptions are made for emergencies). With really little kids, you kind of let them go when they need to, except when it becomes obvious that they’re abusing the bathroom privilege. Once they get to first or second grade, though, you should be able to except some control from them.

    • Katie L.

      If you have never taught kids, you need to know that going to the bathroom is also contagious. One kid asks and all of a sudden three more have an emergency and need to go too. I don’t think tying it to the rewards is necessarily the best idea, but I get where they’re coming from. If you don’t have a solid system/policy set up it gets chaotic. In my school it’s left up to individual teacher preferences, but I have a 1 boy/girl unless it’s a break time rule. They also need to wait until it is not a whole group instruction time (unless I see that it’s truly an emergency).

    • PSM83

      Designated restroom breaks are needed solely for the purpose of teaching students to utilize their time wisely and keeping track of students’ whereabouts, but that doesn’t mean students will not have to use the restroom outside of these scheduled breaks every now and then. Why are we attempting to force our students to do things we wouldn’t do ourselves. When I am at work, I use the restroom when needed. Isn’t it a human right to expel yourself when needed? Make the students use their fake money to pay for being disrespectful, using bad language, being told to do something more than once, playing around in the hall when you should have been using the restroom, or for bullying another student (pay double for this)- not for needing to use the restroom.

    • Momma425

      We were given “hall passes” in middle school that we could use to go to the resreoom. We were given like 4 per quarter. At the end of the quarter, we could turn in the passes if we hadn’t used them, and get extra credit.
      Basically, our teachers wanted to make sure we weren’t always using the restroom during THEIR class. I get that. If a kid doesn’t like math, they can skip out a little bit by always “having to use the bathroom” during math class. And such is life- people don’t always get to just walk out of a meeting with a client, or out of wound care with a patient, or whatever it may be and use the restroom whenever they want. Part of getting older is learning when to hold it, and planning bathroom breaks at appropriate times of the day.
      At the same time, we were middle schoolers and old enough to hold it, and make a “schedule” so to speak. With elementary schoolers? Forget that!

      • Cat

        Interesting. I can easily see this as a way that girls are given a raw deal in school. Middle school girls are more likely than middle school boys to have bathroom “emergencies” (baring medical issues) and are therefore less likely to be able to take advantage of extra credit in classes, credits that sometimes mean the difference between a B+ and an A.

    • Olivia

      It’s strange for me to hear about this since I work at a Montessori elementary and things run differently than a traditional public school setting. My students can leave the classroom whenever they want for various reasons, including bathroom breaks. There is a grid next to the door with bathroom, library, office, and other on it, and the students place a nametag under the location when they leave, and then take down the tag when they come back, so I know where they are at any given time. However, only four students can be out of the room at a time, although that’s usually not an issue. You would think that the kids would misuse this freedom and leave all the time, and some of them do at the beginning of the year when they are shocked by the sudden freedom, but eventually they get over it and use the privilege appropriately. Bottom line is, I don’t know when you need to use the bathroom because I’m not you, you know that. So just go.

    • Bianca

      Clearly you’ve never spent a lot of time in early elementary classrooms where one student ACTUALLY has to go, asks quietly and politely and leaves, and then all of a sudden 24 others are suddenly all having an EMERGENCY even though they were fine two seconds before. This cash system wasn’t a good plan perhaps, but there has to be some system for genera order.

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