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What some kids who get one bathroom pass a week say they face daily at a DC charter school

What some kids who get one bathroom pass a week say they face daily at a DC charter school (ABC7)

Multiple families tell the ABC7 I-Team their children routinely don’t have enough time to eat lunch or go to the bathroom at KIPP DC Northeast Academy, a public charter middle school. KIPP DC denies enforcing the strict scheduling the students families claim. The public charter school’s student schedule is one of the most accelerated among school districts in the area.

240 SECONDS TO RELIEVE & WASH

“If you try to go to the bathroom, they won’t let you go and if you do go or walk out of the classroom, you get your parents called,” said one middle school girl. All of the students and parents agreeing to talk to the ABC7 I-Team spoke anonymously as they continue to go to KIPP DC campuses.

“I almost wet my pants and I had no more clothes in my locker,” said another middle school girl.

“You have to raise your hand to get up and go to the bathroom or do anything else. And when you go to class, you can only go once and they’ll put it on dean’s list or in the computer. And one you go to class again, and you ask to go to the bathroom in that same class of the next day, they’ll just be like, ‘Oh, you can’t go to the bathroom.’ If it’s an emergency like she said, they’re just going to brush it off,” said a third middle school girl.

Student weekly report cards provided by families and KIPP DC show “bathroom emergency” counted right alongside tardies. Parents believe this is a health problem.

“Young ladies have started their menstrual cycle and there have been several girls have had accidents in their pants and they wouldn't let them go to the bathroom, and they had to take somebody else's sweater to cover their pants to not have embarrassment and the teachers don't care. They have to go to the office to ask for extra clothes,” said one mother.

“It burns me up to see that we’re sending them to school and they’re getting one pass to go to the restroom, when we know that the teachers are going to the bathroom anytime their bladder talks to them.”

KIPP Northeast Academy is closed for the summer. More than 300 students will start filling the campus August 2nd.

KIPP DC officials declined to go on camera, but in a statement said while it has no official policy against students using the restroom during class, it tracks students bathroom visits for the “benefit of parents”. The charter school adds students have several opportunities in between class to use the restroom.

Students are expected to walk a hallway to a restroom, find an open stall, relieve and wash themselves and get to their next class on time all within four minutes, or 240 seconds.

The ABC7 I-Team called four public school districts in the DC Metro area which report longer times between classes, between five to eight minutes, and more allowances for bathroom visits during class.

LEAVING LUNCH WITH EMPTY STOMACHS

That's not the only time complaint. These students claim they also go hungry with little time to eat. Their lunch schedule effectively gives them only minutes to eat.

“We get like seven [minutes] or less than that, because you run out of time,” said one KIPP student.

“You don't have a lot of time to eat, you have to whisper and you can't really talk a lot. And if you need to go to the bathroom or if you need to throw something in the trash, you need to raise your hand. There's not a lot of freedom,” said another KIPP student.

The lunch schedule provided by families and KIPP show an eight minute period for students labelled “grab your lunch.” After that period, clean-up is scheduled to start and recess after that. Total time for the lunch period amounts to 30 minutes. Families say students are so rushed, that by the time students receive lunch, they don’t have enough time to finish their food.

“I find it appalling. I can't stand it when my child comes home to say, ‘I'm hungry,’" said one mother.

“It's hurtful. You know, it kind of makes me livid. You know, to hear that my - to know that everyday I’m picking up my kids and they're all starving,” added another mother.

KIPP DC officials say their policy gives students about 25 minutes to eat and socialize and that most students receive their lunches within four minutes. The school says it is planning to adjust its lunch schedule next year to “make it clearer” for families.

In comparison, DC Public Schools have middle school lunch periods around 45 minutes.

TIER 1 ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

KIPP Northeast Academy received the highest Tier 1 level of academic performance from the DC Public Charter School Board.

Parents say they contacted the Public Charter School Board, but the board tells the ABC7 I-Team it does not regulate lunch or bathroom visitation policies and that each charter school has the power to decide those on their own.

Despite all of their concerns, parents who spoke to ABC7 News choose to keep their children in KIPP, believing the academics are superior to what their children would receive at DC Public middle schools. Students interviewed by ABC7 News all had above-satisfactory grade performance according to report cards submitted by parents.

“The curriculum, the things that my children are learning, it's helping them there. But the things they are having to experience is not helping them,” said one mother.

KIPP DC FULL STATEMENT:

As an organization, we take the input from our students’ families seriously. Parents are our partners in education, and we strive to address all concerns brought to our attention. A small group of Northeast Academy families had previously expressed many of the concerns raised in your interviews, and we took steps to address them in the last school year. We are sorry that families feel like we’ve not fully addressed their concerns. We’re excited to welcome all of these Northeast Academy families back to school in a few short weeks and work with parents and our parent organization to make Northeast Academy and even better place to learn and thrive as a student.

What is the schools’ restroom policy?

• Northeast Academy is a middle school and as such students transition classes throughout the day. During these transitions, of which there are nine four-minute transitions throughout the school day (see below for 7th-grade schedule), students are encouraged to use the restroom—ensuring time in class is focused on academics.

• If the need arises during a 50-minute class, students are permitted to use the restroom. There is no limit on the number of times a student may utilize the restroom during class over the course of the week and there is no penalty for an emergency restroom break.

• As a part of Northeast’s parent communication and student incentive strategy, each of the student’s seven teachers communicates with families what happened over the course of the week via a unified document we call a “paycheck.” This “paycheck” system rewards students for excelling and allows parents to be our partners—equipping them with the knowledge of what goes on in each of the student’s classes.

• In response to parent feedback about wanting to stay informed about students’ classroom engagement, we share student bathroom usage during class so parents can have conversations with their child about the importance of remaining in class as much as possible. Many parents encourage students only to use the bathroom during class if it’s an emergency and to utilize the class breaks to take care of personal matters otherwise. I’ve attached a “paycheck” from this year, in the bottom left corner it shares what is a demerit in our incentive system. Sharing that a student used the restroom is similar to the “No Homework”’ note that serves as a neutral, non-punitive FYI to parents.

How long is lunch?

• I’ve attached a copy of the poster that hangs in Northeast’s cafeteria that explains the flow of lunch, which is 30 minutes long.

• Parents have flagged confusion about this poster in the past, and we’ve walked them through the steps; however, are also planning to adjust how we frame this for next school year to make clearer.

• The student lunch block is 30 minutes long (11:45 – 12:15 & 12:37 – 1:07).

  • o Students enter the cafeteria, pick up lunch, and can eat lunch at their leisure. Students must ask permission to get out of their seats because we have two grade levels, so nearly 160+ students in the cafeteria at a time.
  • o The “pre-recess clean-up” time on schedule denotes when a student may start to move around the cafeteria, but most students continue eating after this. We’ve put this in place as middle schoolers are quite social and we want to make sure they eat their lunches before they move about socializing with peers.
  • o Students have about 25 minutes to finish their lunches, so until 12:10 and 1:02 in each respective lunch period.
  • o Students may go down to recess on their designated day, A day for girls and B day for boys, and recess is opened up to students 15 minutes after the start of lunch. Students only need to clean their area and raise their hand to be dismissed to recess.
  • o Students are not required to go to recess; they may choose to stay inside the cafeteria and eat, visit with their friends, etc.
  • o Students are asked to be at Level 0 (quiet) at the 28-minute mark to facilitate a safe and smooth dismissal from both recess and lunch to their next class. If a student is shouting or disrupting during this transition period, they would receive a demerit on their paycheck for hampering a safe transition between classes. During the remainder of lunch, students are permitted and encouraged to talk and be social with their peers.

What is served for lunch?

• Northeast Academy provides a free breakfast, lunch, and snack to all students every day. Our food service provider is Revolution Foods.

• The type and portions of the food they provide are dictated by the USDA’s policies on school lunches.

• You can view Northeast’s lunch menus here. The menus go back to January, if you need historical menus, I’m happy to dig those up for you.

• This year, we heard from families that they were not satisfied with lunches at Northeast. Responding to parent concerns is important to us, so the school leadership and operations teams worked with Revolution Foods to come up with a solution that allowed us to remain in compliance with USDA’s school lunch requirements and offer more options to students. The solution was adding a salad bar option on top of the normal lunch. In addition, we surveyed a group of students about their favorite meals in Revolution foods rotation and changed the menu to only serve those meals during the latter part of the school year.

• We know that lunches remain an area of parent and student concern and are continuing to work with our lunch provider to make sure families are satisfied and we that we remain in federal compliance.


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