The advent of cheap robo-calling equipment has reduced the number of printed school flyers my kid forgets to give me... but it has also resulted in a flurry of routine recorded messages that I listen to with diminishing urgency.
Last week, my daughter was running a fever for a couple of days, so I made her stay home -- and on each day, I received THREE automated messages informing me that she had been missing from one or more classes. I remember high school and how easy it was for some students to ditch class, so I get it. But on those same days, I received several other messages from the school: two about a meeting to discuss internal LAUSD redistricting, and another two to inform me of a low-cost medical insurance option available to students who are not already covered. Important messages, yes -- but not really pertaining to our situation.
So I think I can be forgiven for waiting until this morning to listen to the message that came in over the weekend. It's probably a good thing that I waited until I was alone, because the content of that message made me SEE RED:
"Please listen to this urgent message from our school. Our school district's attendance goal for your student is 96%. No more than 7 absences all year long. Your student, however, is already under 96% with 4 or more full day absences. For [our school] to be considered a high performing school, 66% of our students must maintain 96% attendance. We need you and your child to support our school's educational goals through daily attendance. Please remember that only illness is an acceptable excuse for a student absence and if for any reason, your student must miss school, please provide for them to attend at least part of the school day. To listen again, please press the star key."
It's true that my daughter missed four days of school in the Fall, because she was running a fever of 104 degrees. Even if I had allowed her to go in those days, she would not have learned much because she was feeling so miserable -- and she might have passed her infection on to others. She suffered for missing those days, and had to work really hard to catch up (not to mention what she had to do to convince her math instructor that she was not some slacker misassigned to the AP class).
My kid finished the semester with terrific grades -- even in that pre-Calculus class.
When my daughter awoke feeling sick last week, she immediately fingered a couple of her friends who were suffering from the same bug -- but came to school anyway. The other girl in our carpool had also missed a couple of days the previous week -- likely with the same bug. And today, she was home sick again.
"I hope you don't relapse too," I told Megan.
She shook her head. Apparently, one of the friends who had come to school feeling ill had also relapsed -- and ended up spending a lot more days at home than is likely, if she had stayed home instead of pushing herself to attend class while feeling ill.
And that's why I get so angry at these rigid attendance goals. We have a tendency in this country to equate illness with weakness. We deliberately understaff our businesses and services, which means there is no one to cover for an employee who comes down with a virus. We don't offer sick days, and even when we do, we make it difficult for an employee to feel comfortable taking one. And now, we carry these same policies into our schools, which reinforces our idea of a good work ethic -- but kind of sucks from a public health standpoint.
And let's be real about the other motives for the 96% attendance goal: The school loses money on each student who is not in class on any given day. That's why the message urged me to send her for at least part of the day. In a world where the school budget is slashed by millions of dollars each year (and never seems to get to a point where the slashing can stop), they don't want to lose any additional funds they're counting on.
You wouldn't know it from this rant, but I do understand the pressures that cause the school to send me a message like this. LAUSD drop-out rates are high. Truancy is rampant. It's not easy to control a rebellious teenager, especially if you are a harried parent with other kids and holding down a couple of jobs yourself.
A few years ago, I would have laughed off this message, since (a) all of my daughter's absences have been due to illness and (b) she gets good grades. But thanks to all of those budget slashes, there aren't enough people handling the attendance records. Last year, a similar phone message was followed up with a printed memo informing me that my daughter's "unexcused absences" were going to affect her grades.
I had to go down to the attendance office to clear it up. It took me three separate visits.
Some of the absences were marked "unexcused" because the excuses I'd written explaining them were still in a pile of notes from parents not yet entered into the computer system. But there were two days on her record where she was marked missing from her fourth period class -- on days she had not been absent.
"I did not cut class!" she retorted when I showed her the record.
I believed her. But the school wouldn't change the marks without proof -- and how do we prove she was there on these unremarkable days, when we didn't have any?
I was instructed to give the sheet to my daughter and have her talk to the teacher who marked her absent, because only she could remove the mark from the record. I relayed that information back to my daughter.
And that's when she noticed something funny on the page: She had been marked absent by a fourth period teacher she had never met, in a class she wasn't even taking. The whole thing was a clerical error.
I pointed this out to one of the administrators, who then had to pull up her schedule going back to the first of the year. It confirmed what I was telling him. He removed those absences from the record and all was well...
...until this year. We've already received a new memo with a listing of absences on days she was at school, stemming from the beginning of the semester, when the school abruptly closed the Spanish class she was in and transferred her to another. The absences were marked by the new Spanish teacher -- on days that pre-dated her transfer. This time, Megan straightened it out with her teacher on her own.
But this latest robocall has me bracing for more.