Students are Literally Worried Sick

After I left school, it took less than 48 hours of sitting at home, unable to get any homework done, to start worrying about the amount of school I was missing.  I was sick.  I knew I was incapable of getting out of bed and going to school, but I couldn’t help feeling like I should try.  It’s junior year, after all.  Between AP classes, the ACT, and the recently instated parking policy, missing even one day feels like a major setback.

In total, I missed fifteen days.  This included a week-long trip to Children’s Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, immediately followed by a misguided attempt to go back to school, only two days after leaving the hospital.  It was this (failed) effort which, less than a week later, landed me back in the hospital with a “stress-related” relapse of symptoms. All of this was right at the beginning of what I had been repeatedly told by counselors, principals, and teachers was, essentially, the most important year of my K-12 education.

The irony is, had I not felt so compelled to go back, or tried to make up two weeks of missed classes in two days, I probably would have returned to school sooner, and been more ready to handle the stress when I did.  Even now, with the help and understanding of my counselor and teachers, and three weeks removed from the situation, I am not entirely caught up.

My experience was extreme.  But, it begs the question: how much pressure is too much?  When it is nearly impossible, and never-endingly stressful, to make up the work missed in only a few days of absence, this pressure can begin to take a toll on students’ health.  When they’re forcing themselves out of bed and out the door, while they should be resting and allowing their bodies to heal, something is wrong.

And the parking policy only makes the stress worse.  When the policy was put into place, the administration said they would take health issues into consideration, but that has proven difficult to do on an individual basis.  Because of this, students who are sick and should not be at school go to class anyway.  If they don’t, they face the prospect of being ineligible to purchase a parking pass for the next year.

Between this and the pressure of their classes, it is no wonder students are afraid of absences.  After missing any amount of school, it can feel overwhelming to try to catch up all alone. The balance between taking it easy and getting up to speed is a hard one to find. Fortunately, the state of Michigan requires the school to offer students who miss extended periods of time other options.

One of these options is “Homebound and Hospitalized Services.”  After missing a minimum of five, full, consecutive school days, the school is obligated to offer these services to students, according to the legal requirements outlined in Section 388.1709 of the State School Aid Act.  If they choose this route, a teacher will come to the student at their home or hospital with their curriculum, allowing them to keep up with their schoolwork and reducing the amount they will have to make up when they return to the classroom.

Another option for students who have missed a significant amount of work and are not able to catch up is to receive a health-related incomplete “H” grade in one or more classes and switch to a reduced schedule.  The student does not receive credit for the course, or courses, but the grade appears as a letter “H” on their transcript, signifying to colleges that the class was dropped for health reasons.  This requires a doctor’s note supporting the decision to put the student on a reduced schedule.  In addition, because an “H” grade does not award a student credit for the course, they must take it at a different time if it is a graduation requirement.

Even though these options exist, it was not until my own experience that I became aware of them.  And I suspect that my ignorance is not unique.

Clearly, there is too much pressure, between the fear of a lower GPA and the fear of being unable to park at school, to have nearly perfect attendance.  If they remain unaware of these options, students will continue to push themselves to go to school, even when doing so may be harmful to their well-being.  Health must come first.  Students should take advantage of the options they have, and the school should start making a serious effort to let them know that they have them.  That way, they can strike a balance between catching up and resting up.

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