I can't poop with you watching
February 26, 2014 9:45 PM   Subscribe

How can I convince my daughter's school director that a doorless bathroom is not appropriate for an elementary school classroom?

My daughter's private Montessori school has a combined K/1 class. They decided to add grades 2/3 this coming fall, so they will convert that K/1 classroom to a combined grades 1/2/3 classroom.

When I asked the school director whether she will convert the doorless bathroom (which is also coed) to a closed door bathroom, she said it will still be perfectly appropriate for the new age levels and she had no plans to change it.

The problem is, I think she's totally wrong. Every single parent and teacher I've spoken to has said they feel it would be inappropriate. The current teacher in that classroom told me that some first graders won't use that bathroom and she has to take them to a private bathroom in a different area of the school (she told me she would tell the director about that). That information did not surprise me and is consistent with my view that by the time kids hit 1st grade, they are more self-conscious and more in need of privacy.

I called a government education office in California (I can't remember if it was county or state) and they said that in a public school it would definitely have to be closed door but they don't regulate private schools.

So, my question is, besides just pressuring the director by telling her all the parents are against it (which I can certainly do), is there any other argument I can make and information I can cite to convince her to change her mind?

Although I'm not sure, I think it's possible she knows it's not appropriate but doesn't want to spend the money to retrofit, or it's also possible that she is concerned about the possible requirement for a teacher to stand outside the door each time a child goes into the bathroom (apparently public schools have such a policy) and how that would affect the overall operation of the classroom (there are multiple teachers in the classroom, but they all have better things to do, educationally speaking, than stand outside a door).
posted by Dansaman to Education (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What's the 'stand outside a door' thing?? Is that only for the kindergarten-aged kids, or for the older kids as well?

Exactly what age range are we talking about, overall? (I'm asking because it varies quite a lot between countries; I'm in Australia and am not sure what ages are covered by grades K-3 in the US).

FWIW, there is no way I'd be happy with a co-ed, doorless bathroom for my (hypothetical) kid, nor would I have used one myself as a child older than about 4.
posted by Salamander at 9:50 PM on February 26, 2014

Well, I started getting my period when I was in 3rd grade (age 8-9), and a no-door bathroom would have been hell. I probably would have missed a lot of class (approx. 1wk/mo) if my school hadn't had a bathroom where I could close the door to change my pad. So there's that.
posted by rue72 at 9:51 PM on February 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

Public school teacher here; former
Montessori student, too.

If you and the other parents in your daughter's class are serious about making this change, you could draft a letter to the director requesting/insisting on new bathroom infrastructure and get all the other parents to sign it. I think that would be a reasonable show of force given the circumstances.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:53 PM on February 26, 2014 [14 favorites]

I, too, think that no door is inappropriate. But a lockable door may provide its own problems for the school. Personally, I don't see why they can't add a partial door (top and bottom open) with a magnetic closer, rather than a lock. But if they are super-fixed on no door, perhaps a curtain, such as a non-opaque shower curtain, could be a compromise.
posted by Kerasia at 9:55 PM on February 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Public School teacher in California:
My school has bathrooms with open doors, but there are private stalls inside the bathroom, similar to regular public bathrooms you encounter in the real world. We do not have teachers posted outside of these bathrooms either. I think you need to clarify whether or not this bathroom has private stalls where students can close the door or if it is a one room bathroom with no door and a toilet that is open to the rest of the classroom. If it is the latter I find that HIGHLY inappropriate, even for kindergarteners.
posted by ruhroh at 9:58 PM on February 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Can you check to see if there'd be other regulations, like business regulations or place of public accomodation regulations or the board of health that would force the issue?

The low key approach would be to see if there's a way to make sure your daughter has access to a private bathroom even if there is also one with no door on it in the classroom.

You could also go all out and contact the media, or threaten to, but that might obviously lead to fallout at the school. But, with something like this I'd be questioning the judgement of the director in a big way.
posted by alphanerd at 10:01 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are not private stalls with doors. I think there is some sort of partial partition between toilets, like a screen of some sort, but that's on the sides of the toilets, not in front of the toilets. Access to the bathroom is from the front side of the toilets. So basically someone standing in the doorway would be looking right at several toilets.

As I mentioned, grades 1/2/3 would be ages 6-8.

I would not want to contact the media, that would be way over the top.

The director generally has good judgement, so this is a real puzzle to me and thus the reason I posted the question here. It's just hard for me to understand how she could think this is OK, and if I could understand that better, probably I could find an effective way to convince her it's not. But I'm not sure asking "why do you think this is OK?" will provide a useful answer.
posted by Dansaman at 10:03 PM on February 26, 2014

My daycare center, in a govt building in DC, had open bathrooms in between the K and Pre-K classrooms but I can't imagine that for 1st grade. Our local public school, in CA, has a single private bathroom in the K classrooms.
posted by amapolaroja at 10:03 PM on February 26, 2014

This is very likely a liability issue for the school, protecting both the school and the staff from allegations of child molestation. If you want to instigate change in a cooperative manner, you are probably well advised to help her address that. In other words, she's not "totally wrong" she just has a larger range of issues to balance than you do.

FWIW, I taught pre-school in a building with the same open door bathroom policy. When I later ran day camps for kids pre-K through age six, I went through acrobatic contortions of bathroom polices to try to make it work for everyone at every age. It's a significant piece of facilities management when there are children in a pre-K age group involved.

In your case, a simple solution might be not a door but rather a curtain on a rod across the open doorway so that it doesn't obstruct the door opening at all -- like this, but with a single panel. If a child needs an adult to accompany them to the bathroom, the curtain is never closed. If a child can take themselves to the bathroom, they may pull the curtain.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:13 PM on February 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

I cannot think of any reason that she could consider this appropriate. FWIW, my eldest is in a California public school, and there are no doorless bathrooms. In K there is a coed bathroom in the classroom, but it has an unlockable door. 1st grade and up, the students leave the classroom and go to gendered bathrooms that have a door, and stalls with locks. My younger son is still in daycare/preschool, and they have a sliding door on the bathroom. Once they are potty trained, they are taught to close the door when using the toilet. I tell you this for context. If I had arrived at a school and found a bathroom with no privacy, that would have been a complete dealbreaker. I think its inappropriate for a K/1 classroom.
posted by Joh at 10:16 PM on February 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Parent in Los Angeles here.

Why are you paying these people to care and teach your child?

Seek another school. I know it is difficult, but not impossible.

This is deal breaker territory and I don't see HOW this can be explained away as a misunderstanding when this crackpot finally caves in to pressure and puts in the door.

Is there a school board?

This woman needs to be fired or you need another school for your child with safer policies in place.
posted by jbenben at 10:18 PM on February 26, 2014 [19 favorites]

My daughter is in a preschool Montessori classroom and it has a door! It is not lockable, but it's there. Having no door at all is inappropriate.
posted by Ostara at 10:19 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, my question is, besides just pressuring the director by telling her all the parents are against it (which I can certainly do), is there any other argument I can make and information I can cite to convince her to change her mind?

Don't just tell her all the parents are against it; tell her why the parents are against it -- namely, that they believe (not at all unreasonably) that at this age, children have the right to privacy when they go to a toilet, and the right to be in a school where this is respected in an age-appropriate manner (i.e., doors, but no locks).
posted by scody at 10:23 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

To clarify: when the school was originally built about 5 years ago, I think the plan was for it to be all pre-K. The K/1 level was added later.

I know the director quite well and she's not a crackpot, but on this particular issue I think she's wrong. But as some answerers have suggested, there may be more factors involved and maybe I need to try to pry that information out of her so I can make sense of her current position and then try to convince her to make some changes.
posted by Dansaman at 10:23 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would sit down with her and discuss the whole thing with her starting with finding out her point of view and reasons behind it. Then, give her the reasons why you think this might not be such a great idea and WHY. Ultimately, either you come to some common ground or you have to make a decision to change schools. I think if it is a big enough issue where she will lose clients and if there is no waiting list, that could influence her to rethink her position unless it is being driven by rules or regulations.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:32 PM on February 26, 2014

BTW, you convince her she's wrong by sending your tuition money and your child to another school.

Like I said, tho, this isn't really about convincing her of anything.

She's displaying such horrendously poor judgement that it calls into question everything else she supervises.

Not being allowed privacy to defecate is partly how prisoners are dehumanized. The director, who I assume is educated and should know better, is essentially advocating for traumatizing young children with this policy. When people are psychologically tortured, this is exactly the type of technique that is used.

This is so entirely bizarre. I can't square it at all.
posted by jbenben at 10:34 PM on February 26, 2014 [20 favorites]

This is what my elementary school bathroom was like, but it wasn't co-ed. I just assumed it was a relic of the bad old days. Maybe there is a rule forcing the bathroom to be like this, just in case a kid needs help?
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 10:41 PM on February 26, 2014

I think it's also worth pointing out that while you don't say where you are, in some places there may well be a state laws she is trying to comply with where children 4 and under, or 5 and under, must be visible at all times. This is a non-issue for small children, because modesty and privacy are developmental milestones they hit later. It is an issue for older kids, obviously.

Still, adding a door to the existing bathroom may simply not be an option if she doesn't want to risk losing her license. That doesn't make her a monster.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:45 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think she's some kind of weirdo with no judgment, or you would have figured that out before now. I do think she's completely wrong on this topic.

I wouldn't yank my child from the school immediately, but I would be getting together with like-minded parents to approach her and make her understand that this is a deal-breaker for me. Because it would be, regardless of her reasons.
posted by Salamander at 11:50 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

she is concerned about the possible requirement for a teacher to stand outside the door each time a child goes into the bathroom (apparently public schools have such a policy) and how that would affect the overall operation of the classroom (there are multiple teachers in the classroom, but they all have better things to do, educationally speaking, than stand outside a door).

I've attended and taught in public schools (though on the East Coast, not CA) and I've never heard of a teacher standing outside the door every time a kid goes to the bathroom. I don't even know how that would work -- wouldn't the rest of the class be sitting in the classroom, waiting for their teacher to come back? In the schools I'm familiar with, there's a wooden or laminated bathroom pass in the classroom, and kids who need to go to the bathroom ask the teacher, take the pass, go to the restroom, and come back -- all of their own volition. The only rule is usually that just one kid is allowed to use the bathroom pass at a time. Younger kids are often taken to the restrooms as a class after lunch, but that's just so that they don't all ask to go to the bathroom at once five minutes later.

I've been in some kindergarten or first grade classrooms that have a bathroom built right into the room (the same way that the coat closet might be). The setup is basically like a half-bath in a house; a small room with a sink and one toilet (no stalls). Even those bathrooms have lockable doors, though, just like one in a home would. In all the larger restrooms I've seen with stalls, all the stalls have lockable doors as well.

The only time I've seen anything else in the schools here was when I substitute taught in a class for severely disabled children who needed diaper changes. There was a changing area in a section of the classroom. Access to the changing area while children were present was limited to adults who were specifically certified to do diaper changes, and there was a privacy curtain that was closed during the changes. That was done according to regulations *against* exposing the children.

I'm honestly shocked at the idea of a regulation requiring that 7-9 year old children be fully exposed while using the toilet. I can't imagine elementary school children being comfortable exposing themselves in a co-ed restroom (and it sounds like the first graders at your daughter's school aren't). I also can't imagine any teacher who, upon getting complaints about it, would feel comfortable insisting that the kids fully expose themselves anyway. Aside from being cruel, it might also be a liability.
posted by rue72 at 12:19 AM on February 27, 2014

I think you should try talking to her first, perhaps with some other parents. But if that doesn't work you might try calling around to a few peer institutions (so other private, liberal or Montessori elementary schools) and find out how they handle things.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:35 AM on February 27, 2014

I'm a school principal and I've also parented three kids through occasional nutty-sounding school proposals.

First, thank for being an active parent. God knows we need more of those.

As a principal, I can tell you that the best parental approach to policy is to just ask me to explain a policy. It seems from your updates that you're not actually sure what the bathroom design is. So you're going to get better results by finding out more so you can strategically plan.

Ask for clarification about exactly how the bathrooms are going to work and go from there.

If the director is really going to have a multiple age bathroom with open stalls and 100% no privacy, then hell yeah, that's not okay. But I really doubt that's the plan.

Assuming open bathrooms is actually the plan and the director has no educational or legal reason for it, then your best bet is to explain why you want the actual toilets to have privacy curtains or stall doors or some form of privacy.

If the director doesn't budge and there's no good reason for this, then you can have all the parents sign some type of "this is not okay and we will remove our students if you don't change this policy" letter.

If the director still doesn't change their mind, then you switch your kid to another school.

As an active parent, you will have many opportunities to work with a school. It's always best to get all the facts, get parental support, and try to work cooperatively with the administration.

I have a feeling you'll get privacy in those stalls. Please let us know how this turns out.
posted by kinetic at 3:32 AM on February 27, 2014 [18 favorites]

My daughters Montessori is ages 2.5 thorough first grade and they have a staff member stand outside the bathroom if need be. However, they have low stall doors that swing shut and stick with a magnet. That way, the kids can't see each other while they go, but the teacher can supervise discreetly.

With a multi age classroom that includes little ones it seems to work out well. Maybe suggesting a system like this would be a compromise.
posted by checkitnice at 3:43 AM on February 27, 2014

Aside from an alternate bathroom setup, she should know that second and third graders are in a different plane of development than the young ones (see the first graders going to the other restrioms), and their needs are fundamentally different. She's an early childhood educator, this shouldn't be surprising to her.
posted by checkitnice at 3:54 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I need to try to pry that information out of her so I can make sense of her current position

I think it's a tactical error to treat this as a discussion. Even if she has a reasonable opinion- and to be clear, this absolutely is not, thisv system as you described it is degrading and disgusting- you gain nothing by acting as it is. She's already decided she's right, so if, in her mind, it comes down to your opinion versus hers, she'll just go with what she things.

Rally the other parents, draft a letter and be totally hardnosed about this.
posted by spaltavian at 5:45 AM on February 27, 2014

If the other parents are as concerned as you are, then all of you get together and ask for a meeting to brainstorm solutions to your problem.

If the teacher is concerned and other parents are concerned, then you should all get together and discuss it.

Just you versus another adult is two people with differing judgement. If there are many parents and the director, then it's clearly a mandate.

If there are issues that you're unaware of, then the director can discuss them with all of you together.

Clearly, you feel strongly about this, if there's no resolution to your satisfaction, then you move your child to another school.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:17 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

It was likely that you contacted the California Department of Education, which does not have the authority to regulate private schools. However, they suggest contacting your local health department or child protective services for health and safety issues, or an association or organization to which your private school may belong.

So are they a part of American Montessori Society, or the California Montessori Prokect, or the California Association of Private School Organizations (or any other sort of organization)? If so, you may find assistance there.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:15 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

seconding jbenben. you yank her out of the school if you care enough, you are, after all, signing the checks, which makes your opinion important and worthy of consideration-->obedience, depending on how assertive you are.
posted by bruce at 10:09 AM on February 27, 2014

Dansaman: "There are not private stalls with doors. I think there is some sort of partial partition between toilets, like a screen of some sort, but that's on the sides of the toilets, not in front of the toilets. Access to the bathroom is from the front side of the toilets. So basically someone standing in the doorway would be looking right at several toilets."

That is insane. Kids that age will avoid using a bathroom if it makes them anxious, and they wind up very painfully constipated or having accidents. Then, when the kid has to visit the doctor because they won't poop at school...well, it's pretty hard to talk a kid out of feeling embarrassed by that.
posted by desuetude at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is truly crazy. Third graders using toilets with no privacy at all? There are plenty of 9 year olds in 3rd grade, and many girls begin puberty and get their periods starting at that age. Is this person really proposing that children in the midst of puberty should be using the bathroom in full view of other people? I would never rest until I changed this absurd policy. For the record, I would also be working to change it for all the other kids who would suffer from this, and not just pull my own child out of the school. This has so much potential for serious trauma, not to mention shaming those who wont submit to it for whatever reason.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work at a school that serves ages 6 weeks to 5 years. The 2 year olds (when we start really potty-training) have a bathroom with no door, but the toilet is invisible from most of the classroom. The preschool kids have a bathroom with two stalls, and can choose whether or not to close the doors. Younger kids who are just coming out of the 2s classroom usually leave them open, and the older kids close them. Most kids have body awareness and a sense of embarrassment by the time they're 4 or 5, so yes, 6-9 year olds are much too old for for a door-less bathroom.
If the director is concerned about injuries from the door (which do happen) a lightweight plywood door or a curtain, as suggested above, might be the solution. You are absolutely right that kids in this age group require more privacy.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:26 AM on March 1, 2014

Another reasonable point to make is that this set-up is surely inconsistent with how the kids will be expected to behave in the classroom and on the playground. Kids age 6-9 are expected to keep their clothes on, keep their hands to themselves, learn to mind their own business, etc.

It's kind of hard to reinforce the expectation that kids need to respect other people's bodies and privacy, and then expect them to give that up to use the bathroom (...supervised as if they're babies.)
posted by desuetude at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

> It's just hard for me to understand how she could think this is OK

My elementary school had bathrooms with no doors on the stalls. This is a terrible idea, but not necessarily one the director invented.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:50 PM on March 2, 2014

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