By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
The mother of a third grade girl attending Mill Plain Elementary School in Vancouver, Washington is demanding changes in a school room program where students are required to pay to use the bathroom. The program was to be a lesson in money management where students received and worked for Monopoly Money to buy items in the classroom but the teacher required a payment of M$50.00 in order to use the bathroom.
Jasmine Al-Ayadhi told reporters her nine year old daughter, Reem, did not want to pay to use the bathroom and ultimately had an accident, causing her both discomfort and having to endure teasing by other children. In agreeing with the need to teach children the value of money Jasmine said, “Work for your money, to earn it, to buy like a little toy or a little squirt gun or a little ball. When it comes to a bathroom issue, when a child has to pay money to use the bathroom – that’s wrong. It’s inhumane. That’s a health issue.”
Reem said the students in her class earn money by doing things, such as good deeds, being nice, and finishing school work. She said she uses the money to buy treats like popcorn and pizza.
She also said each student in her class has to pay their teacher M$50 dollars in pretend money to go to the bathroom.
On Thursday, Reem was down to her last M$50. She also had to go to the bathroom. She wanted to buy popcorn, like her friends were doing. She said she wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom because she didn’t want to pay. She then had an embarrassing accident.
“When it comes to using the bathroom, having to hold her pee, and if she wants to use the bathroom, you make a choice,” Jasmine said. “OK, if you want to use the bathroom it’s going to cost you M$50, but then you don’t have money to buy popcorn. What do you think a child’s going to do?”
The school gave Reem a change of clothes, a pair of royal blue boy’s basketball shorts. Reem said the other kids made fun of her for having an accident, and then for having to wear boys clothes.
“It didn’t feel so well because I had to wear boy pants and I did get teased,” Reem said.
Jasmine said she talked to the principal on Thursday, who promised to follow up about the issue on Friday. As of Friday night, Jasmine said she hadn’t heard back.
“This is a school,” Jasmine said. “This isn’t a jail. This isn’t a prison. We send our kids to school to learn and to get a good education.”
The school’s spokeswoman released a statement.
“We were made aware of the situation Friday evening. We will investigate as soon as possible Monday morning. We work hard to ensure the health and safety of every child and will make sure we do not have any classroom rule that prevents that.”
A similar incident occurred in Lebanon, Oregon and was reported by news station KATU of Portland, Oregon and the school principal dropped the payment requirement after the story aired.
A pediatrician was consulted and provided an opinion of this based upon his experience. 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.”
Yet the message this might be teaching children is something that some parents are going to have much objection to. But not only the parents have concerns, the incident at Mill Plain Elementary could have been interpreted as close to violating state law, at least in the sprit of the law as noted by the state legislature.
In 1977, when bathrooms requiring payment were more common, the legislature enacted a law in the state’s Public Health and Safety code to address the issue of those needing to use restrooms and facility owners demanding payment for their use. The law reads:
Public restrooms — Pay facilities — Penalty.
(1) Every establishment which maintains restrooms for use by the public shall not discriminate in charges required between facilities used by men and facilities used by women.
(2) When coin lock controls are used, the controls shall be so allocated as to allow for a proportionate equality of free toilet units available to women as compared with those units available to men, and at least one-half of the units in any restroom shall be free of charge. As used in this section, toilet units are defined as constituting commodes and urinals.
(3) In situations involving coin locks placed on restroom entry doors, admission keys shall be readily provided without charge when requested, and notice as to the availability of the keys shall be posted on the restroom entry door.
(4) Any owner, agent, manager, or other person charged with the responsibility of the operation of an establishment who operates such establishment in violation of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.
While many could see this as making a mountain out of a mole hill, one has to ask what kind of lesson a policy requiring payment by nine year old students to use a bathroom teaches children.
By Darren Smith
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