My throat aches, the room is littered in tissues, and I can’t stop shaking. It’s 7:15 and my lungs still won’t work properly. I’ve taken two rounds of cough medicine with no end in sight and school starts within the hour. I have a fever, but I also have no parent notes; my absence would remain unexcused if I chose to miss the day. I cannot go to the doctor because the electricity bill is due in two days and the water in three. I’m fine, I’ll pull through. I mean, I couldn’t possibly concentrate on any work so I’d be less than productive, I would ruin the progress I’ve already made in getting over my illness, and I would put my peers at risk. I’m sick and I ache, but I don’t have any notes left. So I get up; so I go.
Regarding illness, Madison City Schools (MCS) holds the policy that you must stay home if you have a fever or cannot control your bodily functions (i.e. the stomach flu). Each student in grades K-5 is allotted 7 parent notes (excuses written by the parent) and unlimited doctor’s notes (those excused by a medical professional) per year. In grades 6-12, 5 parent notes are permitted each semester (10 total) and again, professional excuses are unlimited. If students exceed the limit of excused absences, any they receive afterwards will be unexcused regardless of the reason missed. By deeming an absence unexcused, all grades taken on the day missed cannot be input and therefore the student has an automatic zero. If the assignment was a daily grade, which has a relatively small weight on overall average, one may still be able to make it out with an A; but if it had been a test grade accounting for a much larger percentage, any student would be lucky to earn a C in the class.
While the main purpose of this policy is to promote attendance accountability in addition to maintaining the high standard of academic engagement in Madison City, it ultimately fails the students it is designed to protect. Most prominently, it disproportionately punishes the impoverished because they are unable to go to the doctor each time they are ill, thus impounding classism from the very first day of Kindergarten. Seeing as those unable to receive regular medical treatment are also those likely to become sick more frequently, this attendance system only serves as a cyclical means to keep the underprivileged oppressed within the walls of Madison City’s supposedly equal-opportunity schools.
This design also exudes neurotypical privilege in that it does not take into account those suffering from mental illness. These people often miss days at a time due to flare ups -such as depression and anxiety- making it difficult for even a trained professional to gauge when the student will be well enough to return to school, resulting in their excuse note being relatively obsolete. In addition to lack of accommodation for existing ailments, it creates them as well. By promoting a culture of worldly obligation over personal wellbeing in the most crucial period of healthy habit development of an individual’s life-time, Madison City Schools is setting its students up for future failure.
Possibly the most obvious flaw in the current system is that it prompts students to put others at risk of illness by “pulling through” to not risk an absence which could ultimately lead to an outbreak that has the potential to cost thousands of dollars in sanitization measures or even the lives of the student body. If a student recognizes that their attendance is a potential health hazard and chooses to stay home, they will be one step closer to truancy. For a K-5 student to be considered truant in Madison, they must have more than ten unexcused absences within the year while 6-12 students need only 5 per semester (10 total) until they are classified as such.
Under Alabama state law, upon earning 7 unexcused absences throughout the year, a petition is able to be be filed against the student in a court of law, they could potentially be placed in juvenile probation, and their parents (who could potentially already financially unstable) are subject to monetary fines reaching into the hundreds. While there is a select group of individuals that will always attempt to dodge their responsibilities and abuse whatever system in place, this is simply not the case for the majority of those comprising a community. Thus, in the end, all are failed by the current structure.
The organization of Madison’s attendance is not unique to any other system in Alabama and its harmful effects will only intensify as the population of the state grows. As of a recent report done on the school system, it is home to 10,440 students- 21.2% (2,214) of which qualify for free and reduced price lunches. Due to its lacking in a strong attendance policy, Madison City Schools has the potential to be failing over a fifth of their constituents, not including those with financial hardships that do not qualify for such programs as discounted lunches. With urbanization forcing the rapid burgeoning of metropolitan populations in the United States/Alabama, this faulty policy is bound to be exploited: more people infected if a sick person attends, more schoolwork to keep up with, and of course, more poverty present.
While this system is ineffective, completely eliminating it would induce more issues into the learning environment than exist currently.
This complex issue necessitates a middle ground which holds possibly defiant students accountable while also accommodating those financially, physically, or mentally unable to follow the system now in-place- much like the one implemented in Athens City Schools. In Athens, students K-12 are offered 5 E-Learning days per semester (10 total) in addition to their 5-per-semester parent notes (10 total). E-Learning is a system of the Athens PowerUp initiative which seeks to promote education in inventive and exciting ways, allowing students to learn lessons and complete assignments wholly online while at home. E-Learning days do not count against one’s use of parent notes and there is no grade deduction involved. The existence and success of this attendance initiative is proof that other systems, MCS included, can do better. By introducing E-Learning or a similar program which meets the needs of its growing populus, school systems such as mine have the ability to double the allotted days a student is able to be absent while not deducting from the standard of education and accountability the current plan strives for and yet does not achieve.
Truthfully, I am done. I am tired of putting myself second because my school system -the same one that is supposed to exist for my benefit- refuses to put me first. I am exhausted by seeing my friends plead with their struggling parents to squeeze in one appointment, drag their aching bodies to class, and eventually resolve in letting their school attendance hold higher priority than their personal wellbeing, financial security, and safety of their peers. From Mobile to Huntsville, this is an issue that every student and parent is affected by and could benefit from if change is implemented. Alabama schools, do better for your community. We, your people, deserve that much.
Madison City Schools “Code of Conduct”
Athens City Schools “Code of Conduct”
Written by: Olivia Blanton
Edited by: Isabel Hope