I guess I wasn’t born lucky enough for some people. I certainly wasn’t born healthy enough for them.
For my senior year, all I wanted to do was to graduate with as few absences as possible. When I stepped into the school last August I fully intended to miss less than two days all year so I could qualify for ‘Senior Privilege,’ which would exempt me from my finals, which is for me the most terrifying day of the year. It was crushing to me, then, when my doctors began to schedule more appointments and when they began to talk about surgery as an option. I wanted to put it off until summer – I said I couldn’t miss any school – they said “potentially cancerous.” I wasn’t willing to take the risk.
So I missed school. I went to the doctor, I had more tests run than I can count. I lived knowing that my body was fighting against me and my education. All that time I struggled to miss as little as possible. I still wanted Senior Privilege – I felt like I had earned it as much as every single one of my classmates. I never asked to be ill, I never asked to need surgery. I didn’t skip school just because I wanted to. I missed school because I had to.
It was crushing to me when I realized that all these doctor appointments were keeping me from being rewarded with the ‘good kids.’ I stopped caring. I stopped watching what classes I was missing when I scheduled the appointments. Instead of rushing back to school as soon as I was finished at the doctor, I drug my feet and dreaded returning. Why should I have to sit through finals because I have been sick, while my healthy classmates are not required to take them? Why was I not given information on how Senior Privilege worked? It was not until nearly halfway through the year that I realized, because of my doctor appointments, I would not be eligible for this tradition. That was when I truly stopped caring. I felt disrespected.
In past years I’ve sat by as the ‘good’ students, the ones who attended class almost every day, were given GPA incentives. This didn’t encourage me to come to school. Instead it taught me that it is okay it look unfavorably on some one who misses school because they are sick. But I’ve decided to fight back. I will not stand for this anymore. The school system cannot encourage us to go on field trips or college visits and then turn around and give incentives to students who did not miss class. They cannot continue to tell us they want what is best for us, only to punish those of us who attempt to take care of our health.
They’ve tried to tell me that my health is less important than school attendance, and I said no. When a doctor tells a teenager they may have cancer, daily attendance should be the last thing on their mind, not the first. If a student wants to visit a college to consider applying, they should not have to wonder what privileges might be taken away. If a student is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity via a school field trip, they should not have to chose between that and a grade boost.
I have never skipped school because it sounded like fun, no matter how tempted I may haven been been. I will freely admit that I seldom want to go to school, but when I am healthy, I do. When I miss school I am genuinely ill or at a doctor appointment. And I have been punished for it. Should I instead come to school with a fever and risk sharing disease with my classmates? Should I come when my immune system is weak and be exposed to the students who forced themselves to come in while contagious?
So not only does a student who misses school for illness have to make up all the work they missed and learn the material by themselves, they are punished just for having missed school. It doesn’t matter what their GPA is, even if they have the highest grade in their class all that matters for such rewards is how many days of school they have missed. Shouldn’t we be rewarding these students for having struggled through and kept passing their classes, rather than punishing them?
I am not saying this for attention or because I hate taking exams, I am saying this to start a discussion. How do we decide if we can punish someone for missing school or not? Can we say that some absences are ‘excused’ and others are not? Where do we draw the line between ‘skipping’ and ‘missing’? Is it just or even legal to take privileges away from students who take care of their health?
In my school district, any high schooler with few enough absences in a class can have their lowest test grade removed.
In my school district Seniors who miss less than two days of a class do not have to take that class’ final.
The featured image is myself at a school field trip to the Parthenon in Nashville.