In NYC's top charter schools, students are reportedly so scared to take a break they wet their pants

Charter elementary school students kids Chris Hondros/Getty ImagesStudents at Harlem Success Academy, a free, public elementary charter school in New York.

Students at New York City’s largest and arguably most powerful charter school system are reportedly facing a serious problem — wetting their pants during tests.

A recent New York Times story on Success Academy — a polarising charter school network with 35 locations in the city — reports several instances of students who relieved themselves at their desk, rather than a school bathroom.

“Former staff members described students in third grade and above wetting themselves during practice tests, either because teachers did not allow them to go to the restroom … or because the students themselves felt so much pressure that they did not want to lose time on the test,” The Times reports.

One former teacher told The Times that she heard a Success Academy vice principal from another school “praise the dedication of a child who had wet his pants rather than take a break.”

Additionally, two former staff members at another Success Academy school told The Times “that they recalled having to go to the supply closet to get extra underwear and sweatpants, which were always on hand, for students who had wet themselves.”

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, disputed these reports, telling The Times that students are allowed to go to the bathroom during practice tests even though doing so isn’t encouraged. These policies are in place, she explained to The Times, “to mimic the environment of the actual test.”

“We have plenty of kids who don’t always prepare adequately … very occasionally there are accidents, and we get that it’s uncomfortable for the student,” Moskowitz told The Times.

The Success Academy CEO also attributed the “accidents” to “the challenges of sharing space in public school buildings, which meant the restrooms were sometimes several floors away,” The Times reports.

Eva Moskowitz Success Academy Charter Schools RallyAP Photo/Mike GrollEva Moskowitz of Success Academy Charter Schools during a charter school rally outside the state Capitol on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Albany, N.Y.

The New York Times is not the first to report this problem.

In spring 2013, a commenter on a website on Success Academy Cobble Hill, who described themselves as a parent of a former first grade student, wrote that their child developed problems with going to the bathroom at the charter school:

We were hoping for academic rigour. Instead we found a school that was overly strict, cold, and insensitive to the overall needs of the young children entrusted in their care. My son wet his pants for the first time since he was three years old because the school did not let him go to the bathroom when he asked. The school was incapable of recognising that he had also developed anxiety around going down the hall to the bathroom.

Instances of charter school students wetting themselves after not being allowed to use the bathroom have also been reported outside of New York City. Cornerstone Preparatory Academy — a charter school in Memphis, Tennessee — faced similar accusations in 2013.

At the school, there were numerous reports of “kids having accidents when they weren’t allowed to use the restroom” and students being “forced to carry their wet clothes in bags at school after the accidents,” according to local Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal.

We have reached out to Success Academy for comment about the claims of students wetting their pants, and will update with any statement we receive.

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