Do the Policies of Poplar Bluff Schools Promote the Spread of Infectious Disease?

May 03, 2009

As a parent of a child in the Poplar Bluff R-1 School District, I have always had concerns about some policies that seem to promote school attendance for sick children. The recent swine flu epidemic has prompted me to express my concerns publicly. As of today, 430 schools in the US have closed. Our government is recommending any school with confirmed cases stay closed for at least 14 days because children can be contagious for 7 – 10 days. The CDC is advocating standard, common sense precautions in order to stop the spread of the disease. Per the director of the CDC, “If your children are sick, have a fever and flu-like illness, they shouldn’t go to school.” Maybe if more people followed this advice, we wouldn’t have to close schools in the first place.

Although it doesn’t appear that the swine flu is presently as big a threat as originally feared, we still do not know if it may change and come back in the fall as a more potent virus. What many people don’t realize, however, is that regular influenza kills an estimated 36,000 people each year in the US. So regardless of whether it is the swine flu, regular flu, or some new yet unknown germ, shouldn’t our school system want to prevent the spread of all contagious diseases?

While the Poplar Bluff School System may not realize it is inviting sick kids to come to school, it is. At the Senior High School, students who miss no school days are exempt from taking cumulative finals. Missing even a partial day or being checked out for a doctor’s appointment means they have to take finals. For this reason, kids want to attend at all costs. I know of numerous instances where students with influenza, gastrointestinal illnesses, bronchitis, etc. have attended school feeling absolutely horrible and knowing they are contagious, but going ahead because they are desperate to avoid finals. These are good kids who beg their parents to let them go to school. Their argument is basically, “Why should I stay home and be penalized when no one else does, and that is why I am sick in the first place!” It makes it very hard for parents who know that keeping their sick child home is going to create tremendous pressure and stress on them later in the year. (My personal opinion is that our high school should prepare our kids for college. This includes teaching them how to study for cumulative finals. Perhaps freshmen could be coached all year long and given mock finals. Then, finals could be required for sophomores on up. Exempting students from such tests is not doing them any favor in the long run. If they were adequately prepared and all students took them, the stress and pressure would be dramatically reduced. I guess this is another subject altogether, I digress…)

Other schools in the R-1 District encourage attendance by sick children via “perfect attendance” awards and monetary rewards given to summer school students who do not miss. I know of one third grader who went to school quite ill just so she wouldn’t lose her perfect attendance award. Her parents allowed it because the award was seen as so valuable to them. In terms of summer school kids, there are many parents in our area who really need an extra $50 right now. Asking them to choose between the money or keeping their child home puts them in a very difficult position.

I do realize that our school system gets more money when more students attend and I realize that we need programs to encourage attendance. However, it may be that these current policies actually worsen attendance. When one sick child attends school, they may infect their entire class. Their classmates may be the ones who stay home. Would it not be better if that one sick child stayed home in the first place? What it boils down to for me is that the health of our kids should be of primary importance to our school system. We know the “common sense” policy to keep healthy is to encourage kids to stay home when they are sick. At the present time, Poplar Bluff Schools are not doing that and that needs to change. Surely our school administration, educators, and parents can come up with some alternative policies to encourage attendance which do not penalize students for illness.,2933,518682,00.html

  1. JD

    As a teacher and a parent, I am a firm believer in keeping a child home when they are ill and contagious and the importance of handwashing! I believe handwashing is what keeps me from catching every illness the students bring to school. I also instruct and coach my young students in the importance of handwashing as well as the correct way to do so. However, in my school building the students only have access to COLD water when washing and often do not have an opportunity to wash hands prior to eating. I would love to see hot water provided in our restrooms! GermX/Purell, etc. are often our only means of sanitizing hands due to scheduling and access. I am not certain they are as effective as warm water and soap. As teachers, we can only do what we can! Just another thought on the topic.

  2. s. mckim

    While I agree with the point of not sending sick kids to school, I must also agree with the fact that many children miss school for other reasons. Shopping trips with Mom and Dad, or skipping to avoid tests are also pretty common. Parents need to be aware of school policies. Whether we always agree or not, these policies are in place for good reason. My children are rarely ill and have perfect attendance. I think it’s nice that they are rewarded with the option to take finals or not. The kids who have perfect attendance are usually good students who make decent grades. I encourage them to attend, and if they are too sick, I have the common sense to keep them at home where they belong. Parents need to take the initiative and the responsibility for our children and take the consequences when they are presented. Just my humble opinion…..

  3. C.C.

    I agree why should I pay the rediculous cost of getting a doctors excuse when it makes no difference. My family is not on Medicaid. I pay for insurance then co-pay and medication. Maybe I and my husband should get on disability stay at home and then it will not make any difference if my children graduate and go to college. They can be just like mom and dad, lazy and drawing a check with free medical and pills galore.

  4. L. Brown

    All comments are thoughtful and well said. We should prepare high school students for college finals (even though many of our students will never attend college) by requiring all students take finals. We should encourage students to stay home when they are sick. But we also need to work on the state level. They are the ones who have determined that school funding is based on student attendance. Because of that, the schools really have no choice but to promote attendance. We cannot operate schools without funding.
    People must also understand that promoting good attendance at school is an essential skill needed for the work force. You can’t NOT show up for work and expect to get a paycheck; therefore, you should NOT expect to be absent from school and still be promoted to the next grade. Sometimes the rewards for perfect attendance encourage a child to attend school when he or she might otherwise decide to ‘just take a day off’ because they can.
    This is not easy to “fix” because it is a complicated system. There are consequences for coming to school sick and there are consequences for not attending school. We should not automatically assume the school system is ‘out to get us’ because they need money to operate with and the money is tied to attendance.
    On an immediate, practical level: a useful skill for life is to teach kids to wash their hands frequently (with hot, soapy water) and to keep their hands away from their faces. In addition, they should not share drinks or share eating utensils. Exposure to germs is what helps us build up resistance to those germs; that being said, washing your hands frequently is the one proven way to avoid unecessary illness. I teach these children who are coming to school sick. I have not missed school for illness in many, many years. I wash my hands. Frequently.

  5. R. Flet

    This is a great article. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand the need for excusing absences when they still penalize the kids. My son was also sick this year and in the hospital. Even with hospital notes, he has to go to two weeks of summer school. I’m not even worrying about notes for school next year. What’s the point? My mother in law is a teacher in another state, and I told her he has to go to summer school and she said, “But they’re excused absences.” She didn’t understand it either because her district actually differentiates between excused and unexcused.

  6. Sue

    Dumbing down America. All the government wants is for you to work yourself to death so they can earn their revenue off of you thru income taxes. Just go to work push the buttons, run the machines or whatever you are trained to do, go home then repeat it all again the next day and be dead before you are old enough to retire and enjoy life. Public school is just preparing are kids for their future.

  7. Tim

    My younger brother missed his own grandfather’s funeral on finals week because if he had taken that day off he would have lost his “perfect attendance” and then flunked the final exams that he hadn’t studied for (due to his perfect attendance). A ridiculous situation. PB is setting us up for a generation of dumb kids who happen to have perfect attendance.

  8. S. Arbuckle

    I also agree that sending a sick child to school is not the right thing to do. My child suffers from asthma and has several allergies. He is sick quite often from going to school and picking up some viruses from the other children. Not that any of that can be helped , he must go to school .Although when he gets sick,he can become extremly sick and may have to be kept home for 3 days or more.He almost always needs to continue his treatments at school. They know when he is sick and send him home, which are “excused”. Even with doctors excuse he also must attend summer school.What is the use of even getting one or giving it to the school if it doesnt make a difference to the attendence policy. As a parent my first concern is the health of my child not the attendence policy.Their so called “dollar a day” for each child is of more impotance than the health of our children.

  9. Robin Hall

    I totally agree. When everything is said and done, it’s all about the almighty dollar, not the health and welfare of our children. I have a daughter in 1st grade who has had a medical problem this year. She has missed approximately 15 days; with only 2 days being unexcused. I received a letter on Thursday from the Poplar Bluff School district informing me that my child must attend summer school. The letter stated that she was required to attend because she had missed 15 verified or unverified days. What’s the point of getting a doctor or dentist excuse if the attendance policy requires summer school for verified or unverified days? The letter also states that if the child has perfect attendance during summer school, she will receive $50.00. I believe you are 100% right when you say they should install alternative policies.

  10. Toni Becker

    Excellent article, Heather!! I understand how complicated it may be to stay home with a sick child but it is absolutely THE right thing to do. Tending to an ill child’s well-being has to be the primary concern and responsibility of the parent, not the school system, regardless of how inconvenient it may be to take a couple day’s off of work. I think parents put far too much responsibility on the public school system when, in fact, it doesn’t ever belong there. They are your children, not the school’s or the community’s.