Utah parents: Make sure your kids are potty trained before kindergarten — it’s the law

Toilet training will be a requirement for children to enroll in kindergarten next school year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A student gathers her things during class at Aspen Elementary School in South Jordan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Toilet training will be a requirement for children to enroll in kindergarten next school year.

Parents preparing to send their kids to kindergarten this fall should add one more item to their checklist: ensuring their children are completely potty trained.

Starting May 1, toilet training will be a mandatory “condition” for kindergarten enrollment in Utah after Gov. Spencer Cox signed HB331 into law earlier this month.

Parents will have to provide “assurances” to their child’s school certifying that they are toilet trained as part of the enrollment process. If a child is found to not be toilet trained, it could mean a referral to a school counselor or social worker to help with the training.

The law does make exceptions for students with disabilities and other conditions.

Exactly how the new requirement will be enforced is still being determined by the Utah State Board of Education, which is responsible for creating rules and processes to implement the law.

The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Douglas Welton, said it’s a response to a growing number of Utah children entering kindergarten who haven’t been fully potty trained.

While it’s not uncommon to have one or two children in a kindergarten class who haven’t been potty trained, in recent years, that number has increased to four or five children in a classroom, according to Welton’s anecdotal accounts as a teacher in Utah’s public school system.

“That’s not what [teachers] signed up to do, to teach kids how to potty train,” Welton previously told The Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s a parent issue. That should happen before kids get to kindergarten.”

What does it mean to be potty trained, according to the law?

Members of USBE’s Law and Licensing Committee met earlier this month to review an initial draft of an administrative rule to enforce the new law.

It’s dubbed “Student Toilet Training Requirements,” and it may undergo several revisions until board members finalize it.

“It is not in the best interest of the student to be in school when they are not trained,” board member Molly Hart said at the March 8 meeting. “[This rule] is not just for teachers; it’s for that student’s well-being as well. That label can be carried with them into future grades. It’s just heartbreaking.”

The draft rule currently defines a student as “toilet trained” when they can:

  • Communicate their needs to adults

  • Sit down on a toilet

  • Use the toilet without adult assistance

  • Undress and dress as necessary

  • “Tend to personal hygienic needs” after going to the bathroom

A student is not considered toilet trained if they have “accidents with sufficient frequency to impact the educational experience of the student or the student’s peers,” as determined by school officials, according to the draft rule.

The draft states public schools may not enroll kindergarteners who are not toilet trained. Additionally, it instructs school districts and charters to establish policies for obtaining parental assurances before enrollment and for “addressing the needs” of enrolled kindergartners who are found to “lack” toilet training.

That includes considering whether a student’s delay in toilet training may be “a sign of a disability,” which could require an initial evaluation consistent with a school’s “child find” obligations. “Child find” refers to the legal requirement for schools to actively identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities who may need special education services, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Board member Carol Barlow Lear expressed uncertainty about the rule’s practical application.

“I’m thinking that very few parents are going to admit that their child is not toilet trained,” Lear said. “I guess we’ll just have to play it out on a case-by-case basis.”

Are more Utah kids entering kindergarten in diapers?

It’s difficult to understand how prevalent the perceived problem is, as districts do not typically track accidents or related incidents.

USBE also does not track data on toilet training, but an official said a “number” of districts have expressed problems with kindergartens not being toilet trained.

When reached for comment, however, a spokesperson for Utah’s largest school district — Alpine — said they are “unaware of any concerns” regarding potty training incidents in classrooms.

A spokesperson for the Nebo School District — where Welton works as a teacher — echoed that sentiment.

“We have not heard anything from teachers indicating an increase or decrease in the number of issues,” said Seth Sorensen, Nebo district spokesperson.

U.S. children typically start potty training between the ages of 2 and 3, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, with most achieving “bowel and bladder control” by the age of 4. Children are typically around 5 years old when they enter kindergarten.

Despite the anecdotal reports, Dr. Cynthia Gellner, a West Valley City pediatrician, said she hasn’t personally noted evidence that would indicate a regression from the average potty training age among Utah children.

“Bottom line is, I really don’t see kids who aren’t potty trained by kindergarten unless they have other special needs, such as cerebral palsy, autism, or spina bifida,” said Gellner, who works out of the University of Utah Health’s Westridge Health Center.

The majority of children she sees are potty trained, she said, though some take longer than others.

“It’s mostly because the kids develop behaviors to refuse toilet training, or their diet makes them more constipated and then they are afraid to poop,” Gellner said.

In some cases, when a child takes longer to train, it’s because their parents have “babied” them and waited until after the child turned 3 or older to start, Gellner said.

“However, it’s very rare that I see an otherwise ‘normal’ child not potty trained by kindergarten,” she said.

Gellner noted that while she hasn’t seen an increase in children with disabilities, she does believe the pandemic caused “some social and emotional developmental delays.”

“I do know that some schools have more ‘special needs’ support staff than other schools, and maybe it’s only certain schools that are seeing an increase, but I am not seeing more special needs children entering kindergarten in general,” Gellner added.