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Students pay 'rent' or lose their desks at this elementary school

Kent School District officials are looking into a money-management curriculum at a Covington elementary school that requires students to “rent” their desks and “buy” bathroom passes using classroom currency.

A mother of a sixth-grader at Cedar Valley Elementary says she found out that her daughter had to go long stretches without using the bathroom when she ran out of pretend money.

“I was infuriated, because it goes against her civil rights to have access to a public restroom,” said the mother, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Kent School District Spokesperson Melissa Laramie confirmed she has heard of two teachers using the curriculum, which is akin to the "My Classroom Economy" model popularized by the financial services company Vanguard.

The curriculum website advertises it as "fun, experiential learning," and "a simple classroom economic system based on the idea that students need to earn school "dollars" so that they can rent their own desks. By bringing real-world scenarios into the classroom, students see the impact of their decisions to save, spend, and budget."

The company offers free curriculum packages that require students as young as kindergarten to earn "salaries" to "rent" their desks. Pay can be completely garnished for breaking classroom rules.

In her daughter's class at Cedar Valley, the mom said, students earn classroom cash for doing chores and for good behavior. Those who can't afford the "rent" on their desks and chairs get “evicted” and have to sit on the floor.

"Then they can start thinking, okay, should I pay rent? Or should I go to the bathroom?" she said.

Sharonne Navas, executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition, says she was incensed to hear about these policies – especially in a district where nearly half of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“We have children that are already dealing with homelessness, housing insecurity, food insecurity," said Navas. "We can't be adding this level of stress."

Navas says this curriculum teaches children that eviction — and homelessness — is simply a result of financial irresponsibility.

"Basically, it teaches our children that there is no safe institution where they can feel like they can be children."

In an e-mail, Vanguard spokesperson Dana S. Grosser said the My Classroom Economy curriculum is in use by 900,000 students across the country, although she could not say how many of those students are in Washington state.

Grosser said the curriculum is meant for teachers and schools to "work together to determine how to implement the program while tailoring it to the specific needs of their school, classroom and students."

At the Kent School District, Laramie didn't confirm exactly which curriculum the teachers are using.

"Our school leader and district leaders are aware of the concerns this parent has brought forward," she wrote in an e-mail. "We are assessing the situation, determining our next course of action and we will continue working with the family to address their concerns."

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