A few years back, a friend told me of the problems her 3-year-old son was having at his preschool. When she had enrolled him, she told the administrators that he was not yet fully potty trained. “That’s fine,” they told her.
But then, every time he proved he wasn’t potty trained, an instructor would greet her at the door, with a solemn expression, and say, “He had another accident today.”
“It wasn’t an ‘accident,’” she eventually told the school. “We told you he wasn’t potty trained.” They found another school.
That story came to mind when I read of the suspension of Zoe Rosso -- a 3-year-old girl -- from Arlington’s Claremont Elementary Montessori preschool. Zoe, it seems, committed the offense of having more than eight “accidents” in a single month.
Her mother, Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso, told the Washington Post that she and her daughter were actually escorted from the premises by the school’s principal in early December. “The principal told me that Zoe had had enough chances,” Rosso said. “That seemed absurd to me. It came as a total shock.”
It was also a burden, personally and financially. Rosso, a writing and communications consultant, had to suspend her business for nearly a month while seeking child care, and was still on the hook for the Montessori school’s $835 monthly tuition.
She’s now trying to get Arlington County to change its policies. “If a kid is emotionally and intellectually ready for school…then they should have the ability to go, regardless of whether their bladder has caught up with their brain,” Rosso told the Post.
The issue is about more than a mess. Potty training is a complex issue in fragile early childhood psychological development, and forcing a child to learn the task too quickly can result in neurosis. That was clear in Zoe’s case. During her month away from Claremont, Zoe had few accidents. But in her first days back at the school this month, she had five. Now at a new school with a less restrictive mentality, she’s had none.
In fact, Zoe’s case is not at all uncommon. Potty-training typically begins between the ages of 18 months and four years, and about 20 percent of 5-year-olds still have occasional daytime accidents. One mother told me, “My kids had to leave an extra set of clothes with their kindergarten teachers just in case they had in accident in school -- it was public school policy.”
An Arlington mother, however, told me, “Our preschool has the same policy. I see no problem with the rule.” She said that while a daycare provider would be expected to have time to deal with accidents, in a school, a teacher can’t be “constantly being pulled away from the class to address potty problems.” But even this parent said, “It sounds like this school handled it really poorly. The teacher should never announce in front of everyone that a child has had an accident.”
The Arlington policy seems to be unusual for the area. Prince William County and Manassas school representatives say they have no such policies.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC