My daughter points out homonyms frequently in conversation. She uses words like meanwhile, rotate, and stabilize. She can do a forward roll and a plie, hang from her feet and hands from the monkey bars, and climb to the top of anything. She puts her dishes in the dishwasher. She can navigate a website. She listens to instructions, plays well with others, and likes to cook real and pretend food.
Also, she can’t always tell when her bladder is empty or full. The urologist says this is normal and she is among 20% of children her age whose bladder control has not caught up with their physical development. The urologist says this is likely genetic.
But according to the school system, it is her failure to keep from having accidents, or our failure for not teaching her how or working with her closely enough. So they did not want her in their PreK classrooms. After telling us this, they worked with us for exactly two weeks before removing Zoe from school. We tried to work this out with the school system, but they were unresponsive, so we went to the press instead, and opened Pandora’s box.
We thought the story would be buried in the Metro section. Our only goal was to get the attention of the school system to encourage them to change their policy. Instead we became a national news story, more read and emailed that day on the Washington Post website than articles about the revolution in Egypt. The story was picked up by AP and appeared on numerous tv and radio shows, newspapers, and blogs across the country. We received requests for interviews from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and some local radio show from around the country. Good Morning America came to our house three times. The Today Show People came once. I had to draw the blinds and let the phone ring. Our story drew ire and unbelievable venom from people who anonymously judged my daughter and me, without knowing us at all or really understanding the situation. They said my daughter clearly wasn’t ready for school. I was too lazy to potty train my child and was expecting the school to do it for me. I didn’t understand the difference between day care and school. One woman emailed me directly with the subject line “stop whining” and an email message “why don’t you just stay home with your daughter?”
It’s been almost a month since the story ran. My daughter is fine. She’s back at a co-op preschool where they don’t care if she has accidents, but as it happens, she hasn’t had any there. She still has them at home sometimes.
The school system did comply with one of our requests, which was that they make public their previously internal guidelines that they consider children who have 8 accidents per month not to be potty trained. At least parents now know what they’re getting into.
But the school system maintains that children should not have that many accidents because the classes aren’t staffed for them. So because Zoe’s bladder is underdeveloped, she’s not allowed to go to school there. They maintain their policy that has been in place for 40 years is sound, even though it conflicts with the guidance of the medical establishment. It still does not seem quite fair.
I am trying to put it behind me, but it won’t stay there.
Every time I hear from another person that our situation was mentioned on Good Morning America or Dr. Laura or in a magazine they received in the mail, it makes my stomach hurt.
When I hear that the school system is telling everyone that they worked families for several months on potty training and they expect a week at home will allow a child to make progress on an issue they have no biological control over, it makes my stomach hurt.
Every time I see an acquaintance in a parking lot and they said “you’re famous,” it makes me cringe.
We were just trying to stand up for our daughter, and for children who should have the opportunity to go to school even if all their organs aren’t functioning at full capacity. Thankfully, we did get some encouragement. I did get emails from strangers thanking me for what I did, saying it inspired them. I did hear from clients who are advocates for children and families that was I did was brave and that it’s critical for people to stand up to schools and other institutions on behalf of children. I was comforted by waves of support and love from friends and family on Facebook, including several educators who were outraged and sent letters to the school system advocating for change in policy. So I feel like ultimately, we did a good thing. But right now it still makes my stomach hurt.