Fixing the bathroom dilemma

Wouldn’t it be nice if every teacher had the same policy about bathrooms? That way, students wouldn’t have to meticulously plan out their visits by comparing their need to go with the penalties of going. But instead of a single solid rule for students to follow, we get rules that fluctuate from teacher to teacher, and the result is the unnecessary, unwieldy game of micromanagement every student has to play each time he or she feels like going to the bathroom.

Because of the myriad of different policies teachers have on bathroom usage, the average student will have to budget their passing period as best they can. Students who wanted to use the bathroom during passing period would first have to consider where the nearest bathroom was and if they should use the nearest one to their current class or their next class. Then they would have to give themselves a rough estimate of how long they would take in the bathroom (it varies wildly for some people) and how much time they would have left to go get the necessary materials for their next class from their locker and head back to class. This sort of planning is extremely imprecise and risky for students, as a miscalculation will mean the difference between being on time and being late to class. 

Some teachers let students go to the bathroom any time they want. Some want them to leave their phones when they go. Others give incentives to those who don’t go. This inconvenience for all the students who want to honestly use the bathroom starts to accumulate over time. According to Wake Forest University pediatric urologist Steve Hodges, delaying bathroom usage for as little as 10 minutes is enough to seriously damage the bladder or rectum. Multiply the effect of this by the 20 to 30 kids in every classroom with prohibitive bathroom policies, and the downside of prohibitive policies becomes rather apparent. 

Many teachers have restrictive policies for a good reason, such as preventing students from wasting time or fooling around during class time. There are always going to be some students who go to the bathroom as often as possible in order to avoid classwork or take breaks from their lecture. But a few problem students abusing their bathroom time doesn’t mean there aren’t people who actually need to use the bathroom. To make a class-wide policy to deal with only the most troublesome of cases doesn’t consider that many students who need to use the restroom are negatively affected by a restrictive policy. Most students know that it’s best to stay in class during an important lecture or discussion, and those who choose not to are doing so because they’ve decided that their urge is more important.

Of course, limits can be good when applied correctly. An example of this is when teachers ask for a student’s phone to be placed on their desk before they go to the bathroom. There isn’t any reason why a student should have his or her phone out when using the restroom, and this kind of policy only affects those who intend to use their time in the bathroom inappropriately. Incentivized policies can be rewarding for students who maximize the amount of time they spend in class with positive reinforcement. But policies that limit access to the restroom altogether are both helpful and harmful, as both those who need and don’t need to go to the restroom are equally affected. 

Educational quality suffers when students have to focus on learning while trying their hardest to delay their bodily functions. I’ve always had a sensitive stomach. In classes where I couldn’t go to the bathroom, I would have to fight my way through bouts of cramps while simultaneously taking notes and listening to lectures. It’s not right to impose a limit on bathroom usage from an educational standpoint and totally counterproductive to the goal of an efficient classroom: the effective use of time.

Even when there isn’t a strict rule against going to the bathroom, policies that discourage going are not always beneficial. The intention of incentive-based policies like bathroom passes is to reward students for using the restroom during passing period or lunch instead of class. However, the urge to go is not always on such a convenient schedule. It’s also fairly counterintuitive to allow students to drink water but not allow them to use the restroom. When teachers offer bathroom passes that can be converted into extra credit, both overachievers and those that need extra credit will not use the bathroom. Those who need the extra credit are forced to choose between their borderline grade going up and using the restroom. For those who want the added insurance of extra credit no matter what their grade is, bathroom passes have the same effect as a bathroom ban. Although these policies are a step up from a ban on using the bathroom, incentives shouldn’t be given for those who choose to damage their excretory systems for five extra test points.

At their best, bathroom policies are intended to maximize the time a teacher can spend teaching their students, but the truth about most bathroom policies is that they’re double-edged swords that sometimes hurt more than they help. Bathroom policies introduce an unnecessary level of complexity to the simple act of using a bathroom and force students who really need to go to gamble with their bowels.


By Jason Wu, Sports editor
Editorial cartoon by Justine Constantino