Zero Tolerance — the Next Step

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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17 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance — the Next Step

  1. Looks like they managed to criminalize, in some respect, the common cold, the flu, and a whole host of other bugs that are best treated with a little extra rest at home.

    So what are they going to do about children who get sick, dehydrate, and have to be on IV fluids? Are kids going to wander the halls of school carrying their own bags around?

  2. Wonderful. I thought the whole point of keeping sick children home was to prevent spreading their germs to everyone else at school. Hopefully this doesn’t extend to head lice. We had an epidemic of that at my daughter’s school in Kindergarten. Almost the entire school had it over a period of weeks, because kids who were infected kept being sent back to school too soon. And the last thing a healthy kid needs is to be sneezed on all day by the sick kids. One or two days for a cold, maybe a week for a bad flu, and the doctor only tells you to take the kid home and rest. If I had to take my daughter to the doctor every time she had the sniffles, I would be in the poor house! How sick (in the head) are those school officials?

  3. Interesting. Here in Taiwan, if you are sick, the principal may not let you come back (even staying at home a few days after your child feels better) in order to ensure you don’t infect other children in the class.

  4. Methinks the Waterbury School District has way too much money for the school board to play with. I don’t know of any school district in California that has the money to hire even one “attendance monitor” to check up on why kids are not in class, let alone having monitors (plural) to do nothing but drive around town checking on kids.

    I wonder if the parents in the district are going to stand for this policy or are they going to recall the entire school board for this moronic policy? It would be interesting to find out if state law even allows such a policy OR the fines.

  5. What it REALLY boils down to is that the school officials don’t really give a hoot whether the kids attend school or not, EXCEPT that they do not receive the government money if a kid isn’t in attendance.

    Bingo. As always: “Follow the money!” -rc

  6. This just goes to show you how ridiculous and stupid the zero tolerance policies are. As a parent of school aged kids I am constantly amazed at the things the school boards come up with. If a kid gets a sniffle, runny nose or has the slightest of a temperature they send them home. And we get a warning that we should keep our kids home if they get sick, in newsletters etc. All year long.

    But at the same time we are limited to how many days our kids can miss (our school is 8 days a year, 10 unexcused). And even if you call the attendance hotline each day you still have to provide a written statement on why the child was absent (or it’s considered unexcused). Since both my kids attend monthly counseling and my son has various doctor appointments each month for his medical and behavior conditions, I have to constantly get statements from the doctors offices etc. And I STILL get threatened by the school board for time missed even though my kids rarely miss whole days, normally its just a couple hours here and there for appointments.

    And its sad cause because I can’t do appointments after school or dad misses work (I cannot drive), which we can’t afford. His employer has already warned him about tardiness (despite the fact he worked a agreement out with his store manager last year cause my son had to have special classes that we had to drive him to twice a week after school that cut into my significant others work time). And they are super quick to come after people who don’t rush their kids to the doctor for every little sniffle.

    As a parent its almost maddening what you have to go through to get an education for your children and it isn’t even that good of an education to begin with!!

  7. Our school district is just the opposite; you are REQUIRED to remove your child from school if they have even a low-grade (i.e. 99.0 F) temperature. My parents wouldn’t even consider letting us stay home unless the thermometer reached triple digits. Maybe that’s why I’m already saving for private school….

  8. The public school district around here has similar policies, actually. An absence is unexcused unless you have a note stating that you were under a doctor’s care and that you were no longer contagious; you can change an unexcused absence to an excused absence if you were at the funeral of a close relative, but you have to bring proof, such as a funeral program. And if you miss seven class periods in one semester (twenty-one days in the school year, if you’re in elementary school), you automatically fail the course for that semester, or in elementary school you fail the whole year. The school attendance policy states that “children who have missed more than six days [or twenty days in ES] of class instruction cannot have the necessary tools to pass the course.” Even if they kept up with their classwork and otherwise have an A, it’s automatically an E (because NPS doesn’t do F’s, it’s bad for children’s self-esteem). You can appeal the decision, but it is an extreme pain in the rear.
    My elementary school–I was privately educated until high school–was much more sensible. If you had a fever, you went home. You weren’t allowed to come back until your temperature had been normal for twenty-four hours without medication. The headmaster’s opinion was that no child can be expected to concentrate on his or her work if he or she has a fever, and if the child is sick the other children could get it. The worst that could happen if you missed a day of school was that you wouldn’t get a perfect attendance award at the end of the school year, and you’d have a lot more homework when you got back.

  9. Besides illnesses, I feel sorry for a child who needs to visit a Dentist or Orthodontist. It’s not possible to schedule all patients after school or on Saturday, even if you are lucky enough to find a provider who will has extended hours.

  10. Just curious; since this was two years ago, do you have any follow-up on what happened? It’s hard to imagine such a ridiculous policy sticking around very long, because it’s so unworkable and inflexible (and whereas normal ZT policies will probably only hit a few kids, leaving only a few sets of parents to experience first-hand why they’re such bad ideas, almost anyone will get sick at least once or twice a year, and definitely more than 1 day per couple of years). But then again, who knows?

    As a matter of fact, I told this story during my Mensa talk. I was interrupted by an audience member who is a teacher in that district, and she confirmed that indeed the policy was implemented, and she thought it was utterly ridiculous. -rc

  11. It’s too bad they vaccinate for chicken pox these days, otherwise you could just send your child in completely covered in spots…hoping the principal doesn’t have children of their own and their immunity’s worn off. It’s not asthma or diabetes, the kid *must* be ok to go to school, right?

  12. That’s so stupid that I’m not sure where to begin!

    First of all, I got sick pretty often as a kid, with colds and such, and stayed home when my parents or doctor thought I should. And I’m glad that they did. How can a child concentrate on learning when they are sick? News flash: they can’t!

    And if all of the sick kids in the district continue to show up at school, how many other kids will be made sick as a result? And what about the teachers? (I’m amazed that the teacher’s union is not against this.) So, the end result will be a whole school district full of sick kids who can’t learn…what exactly is the point?

    Also, it amazes me that the school district believes that the local police are going to accompany truant officers in order to collect fines…just what is the crime rate in that area, and how many spare officers do they have to perform this duty? And why is the officer there — to arrest the parent or what? A police officer has the power of arrest, but they can’t force payment of fines at gunpoint.

    And, one quick stab at the wording of the policy, just for fun: the illness must be serious and CHRONIC. If you have acute appendicitis or any other acute ailment, you must report to school, evidently! What morons.

  13. What about children who are injured? Is that something that doesn’t happen in that school district in Conneticut? A child with a severe injury that required medical attention (or hospitalization) apparently wouldn’t be excused either. Will the police and truancy official visit the hospital to attempt to enforce the fine?

    Where is Forrest Gump? “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  14. Growing up, I heard the word “absenteeism” used a lot. Now, finally, we have the word “presenteeism,” which means someone who shows up for duty either with an infectious disease, or otherwise so sick he is unfit to do his work — and probably because he is so afraid of the consequences of absenteeism.

  15. OK this looks like it was put in place 3 years ago. Are they still doing it? Is it being enforced? How well has it worked out for them? Or did common sense finally prevail?

    My understanding is they did put it in place and are operating under this policy; I have not heard of any changes, but I have also not heard how strongly it is being enforced. If a truant officer showed up at my door with a policeman in tow, I’d slam the door in their faces. -rc

  16. This is a simple matter to resolve!

    Find a really really sick kid. Send him to school early. Make sure he sneezes and coughs all over himself. Then he is a kid right? So all he has to do is visit the principal’s office and the school main office. Spread the germs. Then hug a few teachers. If possible, hug the big man himself. Knowledge and learning will develop.

    All the while holding a letter from his doctor saying he’s highly contagious with a dangerous illness. -rc

  17. It is things like this that made my wife and I decide to homeschool our daughter. One short fight with the school board about homeschooling 7 years ago and that was the end if it.

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