Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Not so perfect after all...

Did you have perfect attendance when you were in school? Do you make it to work every single day, no matter what?

Even when you're sick?

Don't do that. And now, some schools are de-emphasizing their awards for students with perfect attendance, finally recognizing that sick kids don't belong in school. And that is a very good thing.

Yes, it is important to be in class. I'm old-fashioned that way. Unless a class was so dismal or ill-taught that I just couldn't stand it, I was in class every day I could be. And, believe me, there were classes like that. The upper division history course, for example, where all the professor ever did was show bad videos. I skipped the whole last half of the semester and apparently didn't miss a thing, since I ended up with an A on the final and for the semester. This is not, however, the recommended way to do school.

But, you know, if you're sick, you need to stay home and take care of yourself, whether we're talking about school, work, or just going out shopping.

The community college system I attended here in California had a very strict attendance policy: If you missed more than a total of a week of classes, the instructor could drop you. That meant, for example, if you were taking a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class, you got three absences for the semester. If you were taking a once-a-week night class, you got one absence. Some instructors made the whole thing even more draconian, docking one grade for every absence over the allowed number, whether you had a good excuse or not.

This led to people coming in to class with fevers, contagious, coughing and sneezing. In one night course I took, it led to a woman showing up the week after she had given birth, new baby in tow. She had only missed the week before because she was actually having the baby during the class period.

Now, I know why the district had such a strict policy. Because the community college system in California is technically part of the K-12 system, they generate their money from the state through FTEs. This means that the schools get their money by having students' butts in seats, just like elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools. If a student is absent on a particular day, the school doesn't get their money for that student for that day. It isn't exactly one-to-one like that, and there is a formula to figure FTE's, but it essentially boils down to that. The schools, then, have a vested interest in having every student in school every day.

But, as the linked article points out, some schools here in California are looking at whether having awards for perfect attendance encourages kids to come to school even when they are ill, which isn't good for the ill student and isn't good for the healthy kids, who might get sick when a contagious child shows up for class anyway. I don't know how many colds I got when I was working in the tutorial center at communnity college and got sneezed or coughed on by someone who had come to school, and to their tutorial sessions, sick. I would have had countless cases of the flu, as well, probably, except that I don't get the flu through some fluke of my immune system.

Personal experience makes me believe that employers should also rethink their sick leave policies. Now, if you're employed full time, you probably have some sort of system where you get to take a day or two or three off when you're ill. However, many retail stores who employ lots of part-time help, don't have any mechanism for sick leave for their employees.

This was the situation when I worked in retail. Part-time workers (which was everyone except management) could not accrue sick days and had to take off without pay if they were sick. First of all, many of those hourly employees could not afford to take a day off and so showed up sick. Above and beyond that, management discouraged workers from taking days off even when they were sick.

I got sick at work one day, with a horrible cold. I was miserable, sneezing and coughing, and the sore throat that came along with it made me completely lose my voice by the end of my shift. The next day, I called in sick - or rather attempted to, and finally had to have my mother talk to the person on the other end of the line because I couldn't make myself understood. I was told that I had to come in anyway, even though I couldn't talk. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to interact with customers (I was a cashier, and that was part of the job), but they wanted me there.

I told them no, that I would not be there, that I was going to the doctor if they wanted a note, but that there was no way I could work. I was threatened with firing if I didn't show. In the event, they didn't fire me, but my hours were cut back for a couple of weeks after I came back (I only missed that one shift that I was scheduled for), as punishment for being sick, I guess.

It will probably be a long time before some employers get the idea that having employees working sick is not good policy. But, with even a few schools leading the way, maybe the rest of the schools and at least some of the employers around the country will get finally get with the program and realize that a sick student is not going to learn well and an ill employee is not going to be very productive.

It will be interesting to see how this new paradigm develops, especially in an age when we worry more and more about things like flu pandemics and emerging diseases.

No comments: