Going to School Sick
Yesterday's story about Stefanie Zaner, an 18-year-old Montgomery County high-school senior who's closing in on a school-career-long perfect attendance record, raised some compelling issues. First, let me say this: I applaud Zaner for her tenacity and dedication. And I especially appreciate that, according to the article, her achievement didn't depend on her having gone to school while sick.
That's particularly remarkable given the fact that the average kid gets between 6 and 10 colds a year; according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 22 million missed school days per year are attributable to the common cold alone, not to mention the myriad other illnesses that can keep a kid in sick bay.
But another student cited in the story reported going to school even though he was so sick he was "puking buckets." I wonder how his classmates -- and their parents -- felt about that.
The question's not just, er, academic: As we continue to contend with a mysterious and unpredictable new strain of influenza, public-health officials caution people who feel ill to stay home so as to avoid spreading the flu virus to others. Is that advice to be ignored when a perfect-attendance record is at stake?
Such matters may be easier to manage when kids are younger than the high-school students in the story. First, few children (or their parents) are likely to be contemplating perfect attendance from the distance of elementary school. (Zaner reports that the goal kind of "snuck up" on her.) And young students are generally subject to their parents' decisions about whether they're sick enough to stay home from school. (Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations about how to decide.)
Once your kid's in high school, though, his or her opinion as to how sick is too sick for school enters the mix. My family dealt with this reality not long ago. Our 10th-grade daughter hadn't missed a day of school since starting middle school, and she has the annual attendance awards to prove it. But the stomach bug that descended on our household over Thanksgiving struck her that Sunday. Come Monday morning, she was desperate to go to school, at least long enough to get through math class.
My husband and I weighed the perfect attendance issue against the obvious downsides to sending our kid to school sick. Since our daughter wasn't actively vomiting or anything, and since she really, really wanted to go, we allowed her to, with the agreement that she would call home if she ended up feeling unable to make it through the day. School started at 7:30. The call came at 8:30. She spent the rest of the day in bed.
The school docked her a half-day's attendance, so last week, for the first time, she left the end-of-year awards night without a medal for perfect attendance.
I can't tell you what a relief that was. With the perfect-attendance pressure off, decisions about her going to school sick will be, I hope, more cut and dried.
What's your take on this perfect attendance/staying home when sick dilemma? Vote in today's poll -- and please comment below.
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