Graphic Natalie Sadek

School stresses prevent students from staying home when sick

February 11, 2018

Winter is here in full force, and with winter comes inevitable illness and potential days off from school. More and more students are coming to school sick so they do not have to make up work later, but is that really the best decision?

According to school nurse Justine Fishman, there are more students going to the nurse’s office during class than in years prior, about 1000 students per month. Students are supposed to get a pass from their teacher before they go down to the nurse, where they are evaluated.

“There are different things we can do to help a student get through some minor symptoms so they can access their classes and stay in school,” Fishman said. “If it’s not an obvious illness and they’re feeling better and they’re not running a fever, a student can rest and then go back to class.”

In some cases, like a fever of over 100.2℉, a student’s parents are contacted, and a recommendation is made for the student to potentially be sent home. Although missing school results in missed work, Fishman believes that the make up work policies at Algonquin are flexible and accommodating in the cases of true illness.

“If you’re absent for a day with legitimate illness, you get two days to make up that work,” Fishman said. “That’s a very flexible policy, though. The longer you’re out, the more the work compounds itself, so sometimes it’s not that easy to get caught up.”

According to the Algonquin Student Handbook, absences for properly reported illnesses are excused. Parents have to alert the school ahead of time to prove that they are aware of the student’s absence. Massachusetts General Law defines excessive absence as over seven absences in a six month period. The Algonquin Student Handbook defines excessive as more than five tardies or absences in a quarter.

“If we notice a pattern of a student hitting a certain threshold of absences or tardies, and it’s being attributed to illness, then someone will call home and have a discussion with the parent about what’s going on and what we can do at school to support them being here,” Fishman said.

According to Fishman, a parent’s word is enough for a student to sit out of one gym class where they are not feeling well. However, if they are going to miss gym for an extended period of time, documentation is required because physical education is a Massachusetts graduation requirement.

Health teacher Melissa Arvanigian believes that sickness affects a student’s focus in classes.

“I know when I don’t feel 100%, not only do I not feel well physically, I’m sure mentally I’m not as clear or on my game as I would be,” Arvanigian said. “I’m sure most of the students feel that way too. Absolutely, it can affect [the students’] learning experiences.”

Fishman is aware that some people at the nurse’s office may just be trying to get out of class, but she believes that something as simple as getting a pass from the class the student is missing helps show that they are not trying to get out of an exam or project.

“Oftentimes, teachers know who has a pattern of attendance and avoidance,” Fishman said. “I can’t name one teacher that will not happily accommodate for a legitimate illness or injury, but they are conscientious about people just practicing avoidance on a test.”

For long term absences due to illness, a program called Access was put in place recently to give students individualized support during their reintegration into school.

Fishman encourages students to fight through minor illnesses but to stay home when sick with something more severe to lessen the chance of spreading the illness to others. The school is a confined building with limited airflow, which results in sickness spreading easily.

“You can’t stay home for everything,” Fishman said. “However, there are certain things that are just courteous for a human on the planet [to do]. Being out and about among people when you have [a virus] is putting everybody else around you at risk as well.”

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