The lead story last week brought an outraged response from a reader. First, here’s the story, from the 2 July 2006 issue:
Zero Tolerance — the Next Step
The Waterbury, Conn., Board of Education has announced plans to crack down on student absences. Only proof of a “serious chronic illness” would suffice to excuse a child from school under its new plan. “We now are looking for school to be the priority,” said Kennedy High School assistant principal Michael Yamin, who served on a committee to draft the new regulations. “I think we need a policy with some teeth in it,” said Walsh School Principal Erik Brown. Try this on for size: even a letter from a doctor would not be enough to excuse an absence, the new policy says, and appeals by parents for any absence ruled “unexcused” would be limited to one each for elementary, middle and high school. A fine of $25 per absence would be enforced by sending police officers along on home visits by attendance monitors. (Waterbury Republican-American) …One guess as to whether this policy applies to teachers, school administrators, and School Board members.
With community outrage, the Board backed off — a little. They first relented on accepting doctors’ notes to excuse absences …but only if they indicate a “serious illness.” Who would judge whether an illness is “serious” enough to allow the excuse? No, not doctors! School principals clearly know better than them. Really: that’s who makes the decision: principals, not doctors.
They also added one “waiver” hearing for elementary kids (a total of two are allowed for that phase of schooling), and then voted the rest of the policy in.
Just Say No
One angry Premium reader, a board of education member in another part of Connecticut, wondered how any school board member thought they could even attempt to levy fines. He wrote:
Note to Waterbury parents: when a police officer shows up at your house, even with a school attendance monitor, demand to see his properly executed search warrant. No government representative has the authority to trespass on your property without a warrant signed by a judge. And neither the cop nor the attendance monitor can enter your home without a warrant or your permission.
I agree: as Nancy Reagan counseled, “Just say no.”
I checked my source to ensure I summarized it correctly on that point. I did; here it is, verbatim: “Police officers now accompany attendance workers on some home visits. Officials have agreed to begin fining the parents of some truant children $25 for each absence, making Waterbury the only school district in the state to do so, educators say.”
The Designated Medical Expert
So what is a “serious, chronic illness” that excuses kids from school? The consistent examples given are asthma and diabetes — common (and yes, serious and chronic) illnesses that are usually very well controlled by proper medical attention. Result: otherwise perfectly healthy kids with asthma and diabetes are easily excused from school, but kids with H5N1 flu must come in to infect everyone else unless the school’s medical expert — the principal, who checks his list and finds only asthma and diabetes — signs off on the doctor’s note.
This is rational …how?
This is exactly the sort of policy changes you can expect to see more of unless the inanity of “zero tolerance” is challenged by people who have the ability to think. My ZT page is still in need of an update to reflect how my opinion of this ridiculous trend is evolving, but it is indeed the logical next step of the mindset that allows ZT to flourish.
My prediction: the Waterbury school board is just the start; you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
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