Education Law

High school student told to use a bucket rather than getting a bathroom break awarded $1.25M

  • Print

bathroom sign

A former San Diego Unified School District freshman, who reportedly was directed to urinate in bucket in an adjacent supply room rather than use the restroom during class, was awarded a $1.25 million jury verdict Wednesday.

The school district previously rejected her demand of $25,000, the San Diego Union-Tribune, which did not name the plaintiff in its story reports.

Gonja Wolf, who in 2012 was an art teacher at Patrick Henry High School, reportedly told the young woman to urinate in a bucket in a supply closet and dump its contents in a sink.

Plaintiffs lawyers argued that other students heard the teacher’s instructions, and their client was repeatedly teased by classmates about the incident so much that she changed schools twice, attempted suicide and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She obtained a high school diploma from a charter school and is now 19 years old.

The incident happened in a 25-minute advisory class, which was intended to provide students with study time. Administrators told Patrick Henry teachers that frequent bathroom breaks for students would undermine the class’ purpose, but they expected teachers to use common sense about it, district lawyers told the jury.

Fern Steiner, Wolf’s lawyer, told the jury that her client thought she was following a rule. Wolf had reportedly purchased the bucket to serve as a toilet in the case of a security lockdown. Steiner told the jury that her client had used the bucket herself at school.

Wolf was put on paid administrative leave after after administration found out about the bucket incident, according to the article, and the school told staff that students should not be denied bathroom breaks. Wolf did not return to the school.

School district lawyers told the Union Tribune that they are disappointed in the jury verdict and considering an appeal. Brian Watkins, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told the paper that his client was glad to have her voice heard.

“Something like this never should have happened to a 14-year-old girl just entering high school,”he said. “She took the stand and told a really embarrassing story, she told the jury how this has affected her life and how she is still working through issues.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.