VANCOUVER, Wash. - A third-grade teacher at Mill Plain Elementary school was "out of the classroom" Monday as the district investigated two complaints about whether that teacher's policy, which requires students to pay fake money to go to the bathroom, led to students wetting themselves in class.
KOMO's sister station KATU first revealed the controversial classroom policy last week after Jasmine Al-Ayadhi complained that her 9-year-old daughter, Reem, had an accident in class as a result of the "pay to potty" policy. The story prompted the Evergreen Public Schools investigation.
"I'm so angry!" Al-Ayadhi told KATU on Monday. "When it comes to the bathroom, that's a health issue."
By Monday, a second mom, Merchon Ortega, had also filed a complaint after her daughter, Lilliana, had an accident in the same class, on the same day last week.
Several third graders at Mill Plain Elementary said their third grade teachers require them to earn $50 of Monopoly money to buy toys, popcorn or pizza or use it to go to the bathroom.
"What kid is going to spend money to go to the bathroom?" Merchon said. "No child should have to pay to use the restroom. Are you kidding me? That's absolutely insane."
The class is taught by two female teachers, one who works in the morning and the other who works in the afternoon. Evergreen Public Schools is only investigating the afternoon teacher, according to district spokeswoman Gail Spolar. This is the first year the third grade afternoon teacher has been with Evergreen Public Schools, Spolar said. She said a substitute teacher had been called to fill in for the regular afternoon teacher.
Spolar told KATU News she could not get into specifics, citing student privacy laws. Spolar wouldn't name the teacher under investigation, how long the teacher would be gone or if "out of the classroom" meant the teacher was suspended or on leave.
As for the investigation, the Mill Plain Elementary principal as well as the superintendent would be "talking to all parties involved" including the children and teacher.
"We're never going to prevent a child who is in an emergency situation from going to the bathroom," Spolar said. "We don't want the children to have accidents. We don't want the children to have health and safety issues and so that's part of that investigation is how the procedure is being done."
Spolar said "pay to potty" is not a district-wide policy but rather a decision left up to the teachers to track when kids leave the classroom - including bathroom breaks - and calls that a balancing act. She said some teachers use passes or a sign-out sheet. In this case, she said the students earn their own money and "that's how they check out for the restroom."
The spokeswoman sent KATU the following email showing the amount of times students have for regularly-scheduled bathroom breaks:
Here is the daily schedule for the third graders....
9:05-9:15 Students enter the class (AM teacher)
11:20 Students transition to specialist
12:30 Class time (transition to PM teacher)
2:35 Class time
In Lilliana's case, she had the $50 of fake money on Thursday but didn't want to use it to pay for the bathroom. In Reem's case, she told KATU she was down to her last $50. She also had to go to the bathroom. She wanted to buy popcorn, like her friends were doing but was told she wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom because she didn't want to pay.
Both girls were given a change of clothes after the accidents but both said they were humiliated.
"It makes me feel kind of horrible in somebody else's pants and undies and I just wanted to stay in my clothes," Lilliana said.
"Elementary school children may have accidents," Spolar said. "That's why we have an entire clothes closet. If a child has an accident they come to the office (and) explain that they've had an accident. They are able to choose from a wide array of clothes and they choose what they would like to put on. We'll ask them if they want their parents to be notified."
Except both Al-Ayadhi and Merchon contend the district didn't notify them. They both complained that the only reason they found out about the accidents and the policy was when their daughters came home from school in different clothes. Spolar said the district has been in contact with Al-Ayadhi but did not provide details about communication with Merchon.
Both moms want the policy immediately stopped and action taken against the teacher in question. In fact, Merchon was so upset she pulled Lilliana out of school Monday and said she's considering keeping her out of the classroom until the situation is resolved.
"This is not going to happen to my child," Merchon said.
Spolar said it would likely not update parents in the third grade classroom until the investigation was complete. However, parents who are concerned or had a child who wet themselves are encouraged to call the main Mill Plain Elementary school line at (360) 604-6800.
The On Your Side Investigators also checked with Vancouver police and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) about the "pay to potty" policy. Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said there were no complaints filed with the department but she did receive at least inquiry about it. As a result, Kapp said she spoke with two school resource officers within the district but said neither had heard about the incidents. Kapp also said it wasn't immediately clear what the crime would be.
Thanks to calls by the On Your Side Investigators, OSPI looked into the policy laws of "pay to potty" policies as well. Spokesman, Nathan Olsen, said there are no laws on the books that directly deal with paying to use the bathroom but said that doesn't mean it can't be investigated. Olsen said OSPI does not deal with employment issues at school but could take away a teacher's certificate if a situation rose to that level. For OSPI to get involved, Olsen said either the district or the local Educational School District (ESD) would have to reach out to the state.
After its first story aired on Friday, KATU also received a complaint from a woman about "pay to potty" concerns at Crestline Elementary. As of Monday afternoon, Spolar said Crestline Elementary had not received any complaints.
This isn't the first "pay to potty" incident KATU News investigated. A similar program was in place at Cascades Elementary School in Lebanon, Oregon. After a KATU Problem Solvers investigation, the school changed its policy.