Jordan Riak's letter to California Assembly Member Lois Wolk
March 31, 2003

March 31, 2003

Assembly Member Lois Wolk
District Office
555 Mason Street, Suite 275
Vacaville, CA 95688

Dear Assembly Member Lois Wolk,

In my letter of January 8, 2003 to you and other members of the California legislature, I discussed in detail the abuse of schoolchildren in a Vacaville classroom. Enclosed are the names and telephone numbers of a few parents who’s children were involved. They would be pleased to discuss these matters with you if you wish.

Since alerting the legislature, little, if anything, has been done to correct matters. Some parents have withdrawn their children from the problem class, while other children of unsuspecting families have been corralled to take their places. The fact that certain parents have managed to protect their children is testimony to their individual determination and resourcefulness. The school’s reaction, from start to finish, was to aggressively deny that anything was amiss and to attempt to bully parents into silence and accepting the status quo. The career needs of its adult employees clearly took precedence over the safety needs of second graders. There was no mechanism in place for protecting the children from an abusive teacher. Parents were on their own. And it’s the lucky child who has parents savvy enough to recognize a problem early and take that child out of harm’s way before too much damage is done.

As you know, protective services was notified of the situation at that school. They received the same letter you and your colleagues received, and I had a telephone conversation with the agency head. Apparently maltreatment perpetrated against children in school is outside their purview. That’s deemed someone else’s problem.

What can we advise parents? And what will we tell the children years from now when they ask why so little was done to protect them even after it was evident they were being abused?

I have no illusions that the problem I am describing is easy to fix. Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education does what it can to inform and empower parents in the hope that eventually their increased numbers will tilt the balance of power in favor of a more responsive and more responsible public education system. Such a system will place children’s safety ahead of adults’ convenience. Such a system will act swiftly when children are at risk, and will show zero-tolerance for mediocrity, incompetence and unprofessionalism within its ranks.

Now I want to talk about a problem that can be fixed relatively quickly and with a minimum of debate. We must guarantee every child’s right to relieve bladder or bowel when nature calls. This right was, and continues to be, routinely violated in the Vacaville classroom referred to above. The fact that it also happens in many other places is hardly an alibi. Every day children are punished for having to go to the bathroom at the “wrong” time. If you doubt that, ask any second grader.

There is a range of serious health risks associated with forced retention of bodily waste. This is not merely a matter of opinion. It is an established medical fact. (See the enclosed copy of “Health Risks to Children Associated With Forced Retention of Bodily Waste - A statement by healthcare professionals.") Any attempt to impede a child’s normal bodily process of waste elimination is, by definition, child abuse. Insofar as this mistreatment causes pain, it explicitly violates California’s corporal punishment prohibition which defines corporal punishment as the deliberate infliction of pain on a child. Any mandated reporter who is aware of this happening, and fails to report it, is in violation of the mandated reporting law.

No child should be conscripted into Bladder Boot Camp, and any teacher who argues that giving a children free access to the bathroom will result in long absences and/or constant interruptions, should wonder just what message is being conveyed by the children when they seem to prefer the bathroom to the classroom.

I recommend that legislation be introduced that will require all school personnel to honor the right of schoolchildren to go to the bathroom when they need to, and absolutely to defer to children’s judgement in this regard. When we fail to put children in charge of their own bodies, we not only put them at risk in the near term, but set them up for the most dangerous forms of exploitation later.

Ideally, toilets should be installed in the classrooms of the younger children, many of whom haven’t fully developed bladder and bowel control.

If you decide to act on this recommendation, you can count on our support.

Thank you for your interest and your concern for the children.


Jordan Riak,

cc: Child Protective Services of Solano County


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