Mike Kennedy

Editor's Focus: Nobody's perfect

March 14, 2022

Here’s a fun fact about my past as a student: I went more than six years without missing a day of school. It’s one of those things on my permanent record that teachers were always talking about.

Perfect attendance never was a particular goal of mine; it was more the result of inertia than any thought-out strategy or FOMO (which was not a thing back then). Since I was already well enough to get up at dawn and deliver newspapers, I didn’t think I could sell the argument that I was too sick to go to school.

I’ve been thinking about my “perfect attendance” history and how perfectly misguided it seems in 2022 as schools continue to cope with the health challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. When I was in school, perfect attendance was considered a notable achievement. It was a sign that you were not only committed to your schooling but also tough enough not to be knocked off course by a common cold or an ear infection.

A grade school classmate was even more “perfect” than me. For eight years, from first to eighth grade, she never missed a day. When her “achievement” was announced at eighth-grade graduation, the audience oohed and aahed in admiration. We fellow students reveled in the story of how she had gotten sick one morning in class and was sent home, but after lunch she summoned up her inner Cal Ripken and came back in the afternoon to keep her attendance streak unblemished.

Of course, there are no records of how many other students came down sick from the germs she (or I) spread when we were less than healthy and mingled with our classmates. No one thought about that then; but after two years of Covid, we are thinking about it now.

Covid-19 has shown us the potentially deadly consequences that come from treating student health cavalierly. The guidance to schools from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is simple and direct: “Discourage the use of ‘perfect attendance’ awards.”

Instead, the CDC has urged schools to have flexible attendance and sick leave policies that encourage students and staff to stay home when they are sick.

And that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

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