Idiotic attendance policies
© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD
The teenager started crying when I said, “Go home, get some sleep, you’ll probably be ready to make it back to school in a few days.”
She was sick, but not sick-sick. Fever 101, sore throat, achy, didn’t feel well. We’ve all been there.
The crying wasn’t because she felt bad. She was upset because she was missing school. She’d have to take her final exams.
The Federal “No Child Left Behind” act made school attendance crucial component of whether schools meet objective performance thresholds—and therefore, whether funding flows their way. Too many absences? There may not be enough cash to operate. As usual, legislation begets unintended consequences.
- Parents are routinely being dragged in front of child protective services, accused of raising truants, because their kids are missing too much school. I know—I’ve written the letters defending good parents whose kids are sick just a few too many days. The schools feel so much pressure to get the kids behind the desks that they’ve become far quicker to call in the police.
- Kids feel tremendous pressure not to miss school, even when they’re legitimately ill.
- Parents bring kids to see me even for trivial illnesses, just to get a documented school note. There are times when kids are too sick for school, but don’t really need to see a doctor. Parents know this, and I don’t suggest that parents bring kids to see me if they miss a day of school for a minor illness. It’s a waste of time for me, the parents, and the child, and it doesn’t help Junior get healthier any sooner.
My patient explained that at her school, if you miss less than two days per semester, you can skip your final exams. Miss two or more days, and you’re stuck. It doesn’t seem to matter why you missed, or what your grades are—the point is, drag your sick keister to school, and you can get into the HOV lane. You’ll get other people sick, but you’ll cruise past the suckers toiling through finals.
What? You thought final exams were to make sure you learned the material? Ha! They’re punishment for illness.
There are other rewards for perfect attendance. How about some McDonald’s gift certificates? Or a free bike? (I’m glad the givaway includes a helmet—but are they really just trying to prevent absences from cracked skulls?) Cash is always a good option, too.
I understand, and agree with, the idea that kids ought to be in school. But sick kids, especially ones with contagious illnesses, need to stay home. There should be no punishment for becoming ill. As a community, it’s clear that if more sick kids attend school, more kids will catch more illnesses, and we’ll just end up with more sick kids—and more sick parents.
If absences are outlawed, only outlaws will have absences. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that creating incentives for sick children to go to school is shortsighted. And, frankly, idiotic.