Bathroom breaks are notoriously used as an excuse to skip class or go on one’s phone, but restricting students’ access to bathrooms has unintended consequences for menstruating students. Berkeley High School (BHS) has responded to the issue of students skipping class under the guise of using the bathroom in a number of ways. Some policies only allow one person to use the restroom at a time, bar anyone from using the restroom in the first and last ten minutes of class, and sometimes limit students to only four bathroom passes per semester. However, these policies often have inordinate impacts on students who menstruate. For this reason, teachers should not participate in restrictions that discriminate against menstruating students, putting them in difficult positions while giving others a leg up.
Teachers who implement the bathroom pass rule often offer extra credit to those who turn in unused passes by the end of the quarter. Menstruating students are more likely to use their bathroom passes, making them unable to get this credit. Cis-male students do not menstruate once a month, so they are more able to earn extra credit, thus obtaining an academic advantage as a reward for not having a uterus.
Several years ago, the Women’s Student Union (WSU) demanded that the administration reform the bathroom pass rule. At that point, most teachers had strict rules regarding student restroom use. The WSU created a new system that involved a sign-out and sign-in sheet to track how long students were gone. While some teachers implemented this system, many reverted back to using bathroom passes.
Since then, there has been no larger administrative action towards reforming the bathroom-use system to better foster an equitable education for all. This is yet another example of how the administration has not advocated for female and transgender students by changing the sexist system currently in place, even after demands from the WSU.
The administration has been ignoring this issue for too long. How many students need to bleed through their pants before the BHS administration finally listens? School needs to be a safe and comfortable place for all students, and BHS is far from that. Many menstruating students will ask to use the restroom, making it deliberately clear that it is an emergency, but many teachers will still say no. No student should ever be forced into a position where they have to justify their need to use the bathroom. Explaining one’s need to use the bathroom to teachers and classmates is humiliating and unnecessary.
While students skipping school is still an issue at BHS, the solution is not to discriminate against menstruating students or put them in uncomfortable situations. The BHS administration needs to eliminate the bathroom pass rule and enforce the sign-out and sign-in sheet system. This ensures that students cannot use bathroom breaks as an excuse to skip class. At the same time, it does not limit the number of breaks a student can have. In the future, BHS and teachers must increase their awareness of the unintended consequences their rules and restrictions can create, always keeping in mind every student’s essential needs.