Using the Bathroom Is Your Right, Not a Privilege!
By Laurie A. Couture
Laurie A. Couture, © 2001

Have you ever had to go to the bathroom while sitting in class and the teacher wouldn't let you go? If you answered “yes“, then read on!

Using the bathroom is something that we all gotta do. In fact, it is a basic human need like eating, breathing and sleeping that keeps us alive and healthy. Yet, how many times in school have you been forced to "hold it"? It is very common for kids in school to be denied the right to use the bathroom. Some teachers restrict bathroom use to a certain time of day or between classes. The problem is, what if your body decides that it needs to go at other times? Some teachers believe that kids should have to "hold it", even if that means suffering, squirming and not being able to pay attention to school work!

What about adults who go to work and school? Are they allowed to use the bathroom? The parts of the government that deal with labor laws say yes. Labor laws state that employers must allow workers to use the bathroom. In the past, workers have sued employers that refused to allow them to use the bathroom. The courts ruled in their favor. Adults who go back to school to continue their education are allowed to get up and leave class whenever they need to get a drink or use the bathroom. They do not have to ask permission.

So, if adults are guaranteed the right to use the bathroom, why are kids in elementary, middle and high school denied that right everyday? The main reason seems to be that many teachers want to maintain control over kids- YOU- even if that means controlling your bodily functions. Most teachers want their classrooms to run smoothly, with few disruptions. Some teachers feel that it is a disruption to allow kids to perform bodily functions such as getting drinks of water or using the bathroom.

Many teachers argue that the main reason they have strict bathroom policies is to control the occurrence of kids who use the bathroom pass as a chance to get out of class. Some teachers feel that young people should use the bathroom only between classes or during the times when the teacher sends everyone to use the bathroom.

However, are these good enough reasons for not allowing you the right to use the bathroom when YOUR body decides that it needs to eliminate waste? Defiantly not! It can actually be a danger to your health if someone is forcing you to “hold it”.

The most common health risk is that you could develop a urinary tract infection. Infections are serious business. If not treated properly, they can cause damage to your body. Urinary tract infections develop when bacteria collects in urine that has been sitting around in the bladder for awhile. If you are forced repeatedly to “hold it“, it may put you at risk for other serious problems, including over-stretching of the bladder muscles and kidney failure from the bladder pressure.

A teacher forcing you to “hold it” is not healthy for your intestines, either. Doctors who specialize in problems with the intestines know that it is important to use the bathroom when your intestines first give you the urge. If you are not allowed to use the bathroom when you get the urge, your intestines are put at risk for constipation. Constipation can be very painful, causing intense belly cramps. It can set your body up for difficulties in being able to go to the bathroom regularly. If constipation gets serious enough, it can result in a bowel obstruction. A bowel obstruction occurs when your intestinal tract becomes blocked, and waste cannot move itself along. This is dangerous, very painful, and must be treated at the hospital.

Again, forcing kids to hold their waste is NOT a healthy thing to do! It puts you at risk for health problems. It also causes your brain to start to ignore the signals in your bladder and intestines that tell you that it is time to use the bathroom. If you ignore these natural signals, your bladder and intestines must fill up fuller and fuller before you notice and get to a bathroom.

Okay, so now you know that adults have the legal right to use the bathroom when they need to at work and in school. You know that it is unhealthy for the body to be forced to hold in waste. What can you do to exercise your right to keep your body healthy and perform bodily functions?

First, try to talk to your parents. It might seem embarrassing at first, but it is important that your parents know that your teacher is denying you use of the bathroom. Your parents may have had teachers that didn’t allow them to use the bathroom when they were in elementary, middle or high school, and may be willing to help you. Show them this article and talk to them about the health risks if they don’t take you seriously.

Second, try talking to your teacher in private. Calmly express your concerns. Talk to your teacher about how you are not able to concentrate in class when you have to go to the bathroom. Talk to your teacher about the legal and health issues discussed in this article. If your teacher tells you that she or he worries that kids might abuse the bathroom pass, suggest solutions. For example, if someone misuses the bathroom pass, they must use the bathroom in the nurse’s office and have the nurse sign a pass for one week (Never suggest that that kid should lose the right to use the bathroom!).

Third, speak to the school principal if your teacher will not change the bathroom policy. If this does not work, as a last resort, get a note from your doctor stating that you are free to use the bathroom whenever you need to. Kids should not need to get doctor’s notes to perform bodily functions. However, as a last resort, it works!

You have a right to perform basic bodily functions. If you live in a state where it is illegal to hit and inflict other forms of pain on students, school staff are not allowed to force pain on you- even if it is bladder and bowel pain. If you find yourself needing to use the bathroom, and the teacher will not give you permission, get up, leave class and go to the bathroom, anyway. When you return, explain that it is unhealthy for you to hold in your waste and that you want to keep your body healthy. You may receive detentions or other consequences for this action, but explain respectfully that you are standing up for your right to bodily integrity.

Share this article with your friends. Start a petition around school stating that students should have the right to use the bathroom whenever they need to use it. Collect as many signatures as you can, including from adults who are willing to help you. Then, make several copies of the petition and submit it to the principal and to the school board. Bring this issue to the student council if you have one, or write about it in the school newspaper. If you are an older student, call your town’s local newspaper and tell them about this problem, or submit a Letter to the Editor discussing this issue.

So, now you have some choices the next time your teacher says “no” when you ask to use the bathroom. Using the bathroom is necessary in order to stay healthy. It is a human right. Performing bodily functions such as eating, breathing and using the bathroom is not a privilege. It is a right. YOUR right!

Note: If there is any adult (teacher, parent, caretaker or school staff) that is continually putting your health at risk by not allowing you to use the bathroom; if you feel your health is at risk and if you are unable to get another adult to help you, then you have a right to get help from an agency that protects young people under the age of 18 from abuse and neglect. You can get the phone number for a child protection agency from the operator or from your school guidance counselor.

See related materials:

  1. Health Risks to Children Associated With Forced Retention of Bodily Waste - A statement by health care professionals

  2. Are Your Children Safe in School? - Confronting the Issue of Teachers who Deny Toilet Use, by Laurie couture

  3. University of Iowa Study: Elementary Schools Need A Lesson In Bathroom Breaks, by Christopher Cooper, M.D.

  4. The Medical Risks Of Forced Retention of Urine, by Laurie A. Couture, M.Ed., 2003
    (Use your browser's "back" button to return to this index.)

  5. Letters from Parents About Denial of Toilet Usage in their Child’s School
    (Use your browser's "back" button to return to this index.)

  6. Forced Retention of Bodily Waste: The Most Overlooked Form of Child Maltreatment by Laurie A. Couture, 2001

  7. Letter to the New York Times Re: "Teacher in Urination Flap", by Laurie A. Couture, February 11, 2000

  8. IMAGE: First graders, Wesley School, Houston, Texas: "One of the school's special aspects is its regimented bathroom break every morning," Contra Costa Times, February 11, 2001.

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