My apologies if this is not the right place to be asking this question.

My pregnant wife is an osteopathic medical student in New Mexico, and she tells me that the school does not always give them a lunch break or bathroom breaks during the day. Today she tells me that they are expected to stay from 8 am to 5 pm without a proper lunch break, and that they are required to take bathroom breaks during lectures because they only get enough time to walk from one class to the next.

So my question is, does anyone know if this is legal? Should the students be allowed at least a proper bathroom break a few times in the day?

I know the academic environment is a little different from the workplace, and that medical school is extremely challenging, but this seems to violate a moral code. I have tried the typical google searches, but nothing of substance presents. Beyond that I don't know where to check without paying for a lawyer or directly asking the school, which could potentially damage her reputation.

If anyone is able to help me out, please provide a source that I can refer to as well (I know this is standard practice). Thank you!

Edit:
Thank you for the feedback. I forgot to mention that the school is private (but not religious), though next year students can start using federal loans. They haven't treated her any differently than other non-pregnant students from what she tells me, I suppose I mentioned her being pregnant to underline my concern with this problem though.

Really the concern comes down to how someone (or a group of people) can be expected to work/study for 8 hours or more without even 1 proper bathroom break or an opportunity to get a proper meal. They are allowed to snack in class and they have a coffee shop in the building that sells muffins and such, but again they have to use these facilities during lecture times and it's hardly a way to get something substantial.

I don't think this is the day to day routine, but it is still common enough that it concerns me. I have trouble understanding why someone would subject themselves to these conditions or worse for 7 years at least (including minimum residency time), but I do have great respect for the sacrifice and perseverance.

  • The answer would differ by place. It is also, likely, different if the student is also a formal employee. But as you note, what is legal may not always be moral. There is no question that medical students, in particular, are badly abused in the US, at least. It is somehow considered a feature, not a bug. I suspect it is just as bad or worse during residency training. Complaining might help. Medical students have a certain amount of power as it is very expensive for a school to leave a student slot empty. They depend on every seat being filled. – Buffy Aug 16 at 14:42
  • FYI: I think your wife might be able to join a Facebook group for medical student moms or similar and ask what others have done in this situation. – Dawn Aug 16 at 15:32
  • I forgot to mention that the school is private (but not religious), though next year students can start using federal loans. They haven't treated her any differently than other non-pregnant students from what she tells me Once the school accepts students on federal loans, it will certainly have to comply with Title IX, but it may have to do so already. You may be able to work it out by Googling "[university name] title ix". Also note that "discrimination" doesn't mean treating differently. In fact, schools must treat pregnant students differently in order to accommodate their needs. – MJeffryes Aug 16 at 21:29
  • Medical schools have a long tradition of abusing their students with ridiculous workloads and scheduling, and I suspect that there will be a strong cultural resistance to anything seen as mollycoddling the students. The same reason hazing persists, generation after generation, it seems to me: "I survived it, and it made me the person I am today, so you get to suffer, too." – kbelder Aug 17 at 17:36

Under Title IX, it's illegal for universities receiving federal funding to disadvantage students due to pregnancy. The Department of Education specifically calls out more frequent bathroom breaks as an adjustment that educators must provide to pregnant students.

your school MUST:

  • Allow you to continue participating in classes and extracurricular activities even though you are pregnant. This means that you can still participate in advanced placement and honors classes, school clubs, sports, honor societies, student leadership opportunities, and other activities, like after-school programs operated at the school.

  • Allow you to choose whether you want to participate in special instructional programs or classes for pregnant students. You can participate if you want to, but your school cannot pressure you to do so. The alternative program must provide the same types of academic, extracurricular and enrichment opportunities as your school’s regular program.

  • Allow you to participate in classes and extracurricular activities even though you are pregnant and not require you to submit a doctor’s note unless your school requires a doctor’s note from all students who have a physical or emotional condition requiring treatment by a doctor. Your school also must not require a doctor’s note from you after you have been hospitalized for childbirth unless it requires a doctor’s note from all students who have been hospitalized for other conditions.

  • Provide you with reasonable adjustments, like a larger desk, elevator access, or allowing you to make frequent trips to the restroom, when necessary because of your pregnancy.

Your wife should first request more frequent breaks from her instructors. If this adjustment is not made, the Department of Education gives this list of steps to follow:

Helpful Tips for Pregnant and Parenting Students:

  • Ask your school for help—meet with your school’s Title IX Coordinator or counselor regarding what your school can do to support you in continuing your education.

  • Keep notes about your pregnancy-related absences, any instances of harassment and your interactions with school officials about your pregnancy, and immediately report problems to your school’s Title IX Coordinator, counselor, or other staff.

  • If you feel your school is discriminating against you because you are pregnant or parenting you may file a complaint:

    • Using your school’s internal Title IX grievance procedures.

    • With the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), even if you have not filed a complaint with your school. If you file with OCR, make sure you do so within 180 days of when the discrimination took place.

    • In court, even if you have not filed a complaint with your school or with OCR.

  • Contact OCR if you have any questions. We are here to help make sure all students, including pregnant and parenting students, have equal educational opportunities!

Bryan Krause suggested that she ought to escalate within the departmental (eg, officials within the medical school) before escalating the Title IX coordinator.

  • 1
    In my opinion this is the correct answer for anyone in the US like the OP, although I'd say that meeting with a Title IX coordinator is a bit of a big first step, and I'd suggest a couple escalating steps within the department and anyone who is responsible for student welfare overall in the medical school first, if the initial request isn't productive. Not that it isn't a right to go through the title IX process, just that using all of your rights all the time can impact opinions of people that have some control, and the world is not perfect. – Bryan Krause Aug 16 at 16:55
  • @BryanKrause Yes, that's why I said "your wife should request more frequent breaks", but perhaps I should have made it clearer that this should be with the course organisers initially. – MJeffryes Aug 16 at 17:00
  • 1
    I think that was clear, I meant that the step afterwards should probably be to see if someone else in the medical school can intervene as Step 2 if the initial request with the course organizers is not productive. – Bryan Krause Aug 16 at 17:03

Students are not generally employees in the US so comparing the laws that govern a workplace (OSHA and labor laws) is not really relevant. That said, treating your students nicely, even if it is not legally required is still a good thing.

Scheduling students in back-to-back-to-back ... classes is stupid and serves no point but to abuse students. It is completely reasonable for a student to ask for accommodations to be made for bathroom and lunch breaks. Best is probably to email a few professors in advance and explain the situation that the schedule does not allow for any breaks. Then ask them if it would be least disruptive for you to arrive late, leave in the middle, or leave early. You may also want to follow up on if there are safety concerns regarding eating (or evening bringing) food into the classroom. Again, tell them you are going to eat, and want to do it in the least disruptive way possible.

If there is any resistance, then you escalate to the department chair, dean, etc. as needed.

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