Rolling the dice

Art by Sarah Nash

*name changed for anonymity

Mary* walks into the commons on the verge of passing out. Her head is pounding. She wants to vomit. She is too sick to be at school, but here she is. Why? It is still early in the year, and she has already missed seven days of school. Her absences have all been excused, but after her last orthodontist appointment her parents received a letter from KHS. It explained that if Mary’s absences reached a total of 10 days, she would be subject to administrative review. That means potentially losing credit for one or more of her classes.

According to Deb Group, a hygiene agency, a student will miss four days of school per year due to illness. Dr. Michael Havener, KHS principal, said most schools have attendance policies to discourage chronic skipping and allow absences for sick students who can prove they are ill. After one semester of KHS’s new policy, the school has marked changes in student attendance. According to Havener, the amount of absences has drastically decreased. However, Registered Nurse Julie Tadros, explained that the downside of the new policy is what she sees at the school’s clinic.

“We do have a more stringent attendance policy this year,” Tadros said. “In my opinion, students are much more likely to stay at school [while ill] because of that attendance policy. [We have sick students worried about their attendance] all the time. They do not want to miss school.”

Since the implementation of the policy, 17% (47/275) of KHS students have come to school sick because they are worried about the consequences of the policy. Tadros wants people to understand that certain students have compromised immune systems. When someone comes to school sick worried about missing or refuses to leave during the day, they are not only hurting themselves, but others too.

We have a responsibility to our school community to stay home and heal.”

— Julie Tadros

“Not only is it rotten to come to school when you feel terrible, [but] you can get people sick that cannot fight infection like you can,” Tadros said. “[Students with weak immune systems] might go into the hospital with something that you can fight off easily. We have a responsibility to our school community to stay home and heal.”

Makenna Chappell, sophomore, is one of the students who is put at a higher risk by others showing up to school ill. After one semester with the policy, she has visited the doctor 18 times for 18 different notes to ensure she does not have an unexcused absence.

“[The attendance policy] makes kids more stressed when they are sick,” Makenna said. “I know that with the crackdown on attendance there is a chance I will have to drop a class. A lot of people have come to school sick, myself included, and it has been [because of] the overwhelming pressure.”

Makenna is not the only student who feels this way. 87% (225/260) of students believe the policy puts pressure on them to come to school while sick. Makenna needing to prove she was at the doctor and having to constantly speak with the principals about her absences has been hard on her and her family. Nancy Chappell, her mother, has taken off work repeatedly to make her daughter’s appointments and accommodate the attendance policy. Makenna, feeling the pressure of all the days she has already missed, pushes herself to attend now, even when sick. Nancy is not the only parent going out of her way to accommodate the new attendance policy.

[Being sick at school] made me lose focus while taking notes or trying to get an assignment done.”

— Mary*

Mary’s parents have also felt the pressure. In early December, Mary became sick with flu-like symptoms, but her parents would not allow her to stay home. Instead Mary came to school, and did not visit the doctor for the two weeks of flu-like symptoms that plagued her body. Her parents would not take her to the doctor because of the aforementioned letter. If a doctor confirmed Mary was sick, her parents would be obligated to keep her home. With the letter in the back of their minds, they felt they could not let that happen.

“[Being sick at school] made me lose focus while taking notes or trying to get an assignment done,” Mary said. “I just kept thinking about how much my head hurt, how much my stomach hurt. I feel like I was not productive at all during that [time].”

Makenna, who has had similar experiences to Mary, acknowledges that the attendance policy is not all bad, but sees room for improvement.

“The attendance policy was made to combat the overwhelming amount of students skipping school, but it is also hurting those [who] are [often] sick,” Makenna said. “It needs to target the students with unexcused absences, not the ones with doctor’s notes.”