We All Get Sick

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Passionate about public speaking, communicating and taking naps. I also make really good brownies.

Ittends to be around February when classrooms run out of tissue boxes. It’s inevitable that some students choose to stay home, resting as WebMD tells them to, rather than infecting others and handicapping their own learning. But for some, staying home is not a possibility.

Not because their parents refuse to believe they are sick, but rather, because they simply can’t afford to.

Attendance has always been important in school, from the perfect attendance awards handed out to children to the emails sent home and threats of truancy. Texas state law requires that students be in attendance at least 90% of the time during a school year. In accordance, most schools limit unexcused absences, punishing students with detention or taking away access to parking. Districts do have another incentive to enforce attendance policies. Just like Texas, most states allocate money to schools based on numbers, meaning attendance in school quite literally is lucrative for school districts.

In my district, only unexcused absences contribute to that 90% number, so schools force students to jump through an excess number of loopholes to excuse an absence. One of those, for any sort of illness, is a note from a health-care provider that must be submitted within forty-eight hours of returning to school, something that is not feasible for all students.

The Woodlands is an objectively affluent community, and consequently, often ignores or fails to acknowledge the existence of lower income students in the school, even though a significant minority is prevalent.

From assuming everyone can pay the senior dues, to inherently operating in a world where everyone makes a certain income, the district forgets about those that don’t necessarily have insurance or are unable to go to the doctor.

Those people get sick just as often as others, yet their illness is now codified as not valid, just because an illegible signature wasn’t printed on a letterhead.

This fall, I had a serious illness, and that was difficult enough to navigate with access to a doctor’s note and vehicles. The difficulties are compounded when people literally can’t go to the doctor, because they can’t spend the hundreds of dollars a visit would be, especially not on a cold. As a result, they either sniffle their way through school or accept the disciplinary measures and the mountain of makeup work.

Opponents argue that students will take advantage of not needing a doctor’s note, that they will do whatever needed to get out of school, that students can’t be trusted. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it inherently demonizes students.

The reality is that most students don’t skip school on a regular basis, nor would they if a doctor’s note was not required.

Second, for students who need mental health days, their doctors can’t simply write them a note for the spikes of anxiety or sadness, yet staying home is undoubtedly a better decision for them.

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A better policy would be two-pronged. First, certify nurses so that they can excuse students, helping to mitigate the inability to go to the doctor. Students can access at least a semblance of the healthcare they need at school, and avoid the disciplinary consequences. Second, require parent’s notes for short-term absences, and in-person conferences with guardians for any longer term condition. Yes, parents generally do not hold an MD, but let’s look at the comparative.

In our current world, the health-care provider policy inherently discriminates against low-income (predominantly people of color) students. This is exponentially worse than a parent occasionally overestimating their child’s cold.

The likelihood of a parent repeatedly excusing their child for a nonexistent sickness is rather low, and clears up the concern of trust.

Let’s start allowing all students to also be human, acknowledge that they get sick, and that they shouldn’t be punished for the havoc a virus is wreaking on them.