Sarah Grace Goolden
A charter school in Memphis, Tennessee went viral after a hall pass contract surfaced on Twitter. The creator, eighth grade teacher Mrs. White, limited students to only two passes per month, which includes getting water, going to the bathroom and seeing the school nurse.
Although the teacher admittedly calls herself “petty” in the contract, it is much more than that. The weird obsession we have of restricting children’s access to basic necessities needs to be reassessed in a way that is fair to both the educators and the students.
Although Aspire Hanley middle school has since apologized and confirmed that White was not following school policies, this is a very real occurrence that teachers are taking into their own hands.
Hall passes exist for several reasons. The main reason is because, with the exception of high school seniors, those attending school are underage. This means that the school is, in some legal aspects, responsible for students’ safety. If there is an emergency and kids are nowhere to be found because they were wandering around, parents could accuse teachers of negligence.
Additionally, students who constantly use the bathroom as an excuse to skip class miss valuable content, which creates the need for some kind of documentation. Both of these can be stressful situations to put on the shoulders of teachers.
The most important thing to remember is that basic human needs, like water and going to the bathroom, are not privileges. Even when attending school, they should never be considered a privilege.
Teachers have to take into account personal situations. The average age for people to start their periods is around 12 years old. It’s fair to say a large amount of students in eighth grade are menstruating. When you pair this with chronically ill children that may be possibly undiagnosed, you get a lot of kids that require more than two trips out of the classroom a month.
Whether it’s endometriosis, an overactive bladder, anxiety or anything else, students are being shamed. To give White some credit, she does offer accommodations with a doctor’s note. At least in that aspect she is aware that not all students are healthy enough to meet her requirements. However, some kids may not have access to a doctor for a diagnosis, or may feel too embarrassed to even broach the subject with their parents.
Additionally, this teacher asked minors to sign a contract. Without a parent or guardian present, their signature is essentially meaningless. As alluded to in the letter, White says she is willing to talk about her conditions, but “nothing will change.”
From a legal standpoint, what does that mean? If a child refuses to abide by an invalid, non-binding contract, is there really a basis for punishment?
Shaming children into submission for normal bodily functions is not how we need to address the issues of hall passes. There are absolutely people that will abuse the right to go to the bathroom during class. In the same vein, some aren’t even going to show up because they’ll be skipping. Kids are going to do stupid stuff. That doesn’t mean the ones that don’t misbehave should be punished.
The idea of holding kids hostage when they’re sick or thirsty or need to go to the bathroom, especially younger ones, is bizarre to me. As a future educator, I don’t want my classroom to be a prison cell. Those who are constantly using the bathroom as an excuse to goof off should be dealt with in a case-by-case matter. Otherwise, I would be shaming and restricting students who actually need these amenities.