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Tuesday, November 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Students who aren’t potty trained an issue for kindergarten teachers

Kindergarten teachers in Spokane’s largest school district say they’re seeing too many kids starting school who are not potty trained.

It’s become an issue for teachers, who met with union leaders Monday to talk about kindergarten readiness.

Shelley Redinger, Spokane Public Schools superintendent, said she’d like to see the problem addressed but doesn’t advocate keeping those kids out of school.

Kids can be ready for school and still be having trouble using a toilet, she said.

“When children are age-ready (for school), waiting another year is too long, so we have to figure out a plan,” she said.

The spread of full-day kindergarten and integration of special education students into mainstream classrooms could be why the issue has become more prevalent for teachers.

There has always been a handful of students who aren’t potty trained, often due to a medical or a psychological problem, and this year is no different, district officials say.

And students as old as third grade have accidents.

Matthew Henshaw, Spokane Public Schools’ elementary curriculum director and former Roosevelt Elementary School principal, said, “I had kids who were afraid of the automatic-flush toilets and boys who didn’t know how to use urinals. It’s not abnormal for kids to be learning how to regulate their bodies at that age.”

But Wendy Bleecker, student services director, said, “If it’s your classroom or your student, the impact is more intense.”

That’s why 20 Spokane teachers met with union leaders to talk about kindergarten students’ preparedness and their classroom responsibilities.

They want to know: “Where does it stop?” said Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president.

Children can be enrolled in kindergarten if they’ve turned 5 on or before Aug. 31. School starts during the first half of September, just a couple weeks later.

On average, 98 percent of kids are potty trained by age 3, said Dr. Anne Marie McCarthy, a pediatrician with Providence Medical Group.

For those who are not, about 20 percent refuse to learn to use the toilet for a variety of reasons, including excessive parent and child conflict, the child’s parents attempted to start training too early, irrational fears about going to the bathroom, a child’s difficult temperament or even constipation.

Generally, if a child is 5 and still not potty trained, the child needs to be seen by a doctor, McCarthy said.

Bleecker’s concern is that such medical support for students from poor families, who make up nearly 60 percent of Spokane Public Schools’ student body, is not available.

“I would say over the last five or six years we have lost a lot of the community support for families, such as resources for mental health, public nursing services,” Bleecker said. “That lack of support has had an impact.”

Rose, of the teachers’ union, said parents are sending their kids to school before they’re ready.

“Our kindergarten teachers, their hearts are in it to help kids,” she said. “They will do anything to help them. But they need support. If they have 23 kindergartners and two of them aren’t potty trained, it’s hard to take care of them, too.”

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