Perfect attendance is unsustainable

Sophia Guyton, Staff Writer

The intention of modern education is to offer an environment in which students can thrive as they develop. Cognitively, behaviorally, academically and socially, children are most easily shaped during their school years, meaning that schools have a great deal of responsibility to handle their influence carefully. Unfortunately, abuse of this power is worryingly present in the American education system.

Beginning in elementary school, children are being guided into corrupted priorities as a result of schools trying to get more money. Because schools get paid for student attendance, institutions often create reward systems for children to maximize the amount of students who attend school daily. What schools fail to realize is that this scheme to increase wealth is harming many students

If a student attends school 100% of the time, not missing a single class, they will receive a “Perfect Attendance” award at the end of the year in many American schools. This is nearly impossible to achieve for most students, as occasional sickness is pretty much unavoidable.

Of course, missing out on a paper certificate that declares your perfect attendance is not a monumental loss to most. The real issue is the promotion of the idea that taking days off for your health is a bad thing.

As someone who has always struggled with more health issues than most, I’ve experienced the pressure and guilt that schools place on students to ignore their body’s signs that they need rest. For example, my elementary school used to pass out notices every so often to remind students that they should only miss school if they have a fever, are actively vomiting or are extremely contagious. 

In addition to these notices, many schools have harsh attendance policies that chastise students for missing a certain amount of classes, even if the absences are excused. One school in Colorado writes, “A student will be limited to four excused absences in a month or 10 excused absences in a year” (Weld County School District Attendance Policy). Another school in Texas claims, “Missing more than 10% of class days will result in a loss of credit in that class” (FWISD Student Code of Conduct).

Though the phrasing varies amongst districts, the perpetuated idea is that school takes priority over health. Especially in a growing child, this is an incredibly dangerous mindset to promote. Children do not need to sacrifice their physical and mental health so that schools can get paid more.

This idea doesn’t stop at daily attendance. Going to the nurse, skipping P.E., and even going to the bathroom in class are highly discouraged. I have many memories of when a student would ask to use the restroom and the conversation would go something like this:

Student: “Miss, can I use the bathroom?”

Teacher: “Is it an emergency?”

Student: “Yes.”

Teacher: “Are you bleeding or about to throw up?”

Student: “No.”

Teacher: “Then it’s not an emergency. Stay in your seat.”

Through all of these experiences, a growing child will accept the ideology that physical and mental health are expendable during school hours. It becomes a hard mindset to shake, and I myself still deal with feeling guilty when I miss school for health reasons.

As humans, we get sick, deal with grief and loss, burn out, and sometimes just need to take breaks. Plus, students with disabilities, mental illnesses, or obligations that keep them out of school are already at a disadvantage with the struggles they endure and the schoolwork they are constantly catching up on. 

Children don’t deserve to be punished for taking care of themselves.