My kid, like a lot of other kids this time of year, is looking into middle school options. Trying to be the conscientious parent, I sent Nicole’s teacher a note far in advance saying that we would miss one day of school the following week because she was going on a middle school tour and interview. In other words, she was going to miss a day of school to try out another school. Nicole collected all the work that was going to be done in class that day, stayed up late worked on it that evening (after attending classes during the day at the other school) and turned it in completed the next day. But the school wouldn’t accept the note I sent in because it said the district only considered illness and death of an immediate family member as excused absences. I remember getting irritated the last time I took my kids out of school - it was for the funeral of my brother’s mother-in-law, a dear lady who was like a grandmother to my kids – and I was told that because she wasn’t an immediate family member, it would be considered an unexcused absence. So basically, my husband and I will have to drop dead before the school will allow our kids to come see us into the hereafter. How comforting. But visiting another school to which you are considering sending your child, even if it is another LAUSD school, is called it an unexcused absence and according the LAUSD attendance policy – have fun with that little bit of light reading – after 3 full days of unexcused absences or three tardies of more than thirty minutes, my kid will be marked as truant, which can lead to consequences that include fines and prosecution of the parents. Really? So a kid gets dinged for trying to investigate educational options, perhaps ends up with something stinky on her record and her mom and dad get a visit from the city questioning what type of parenting we’re engaging in, which is a question I ask myself enough already. Particularly yesterday when I didn’t have time to get to the store to go shopping and found the only thing in the house for dinner that wasn’t unidentifiable, leftover from Thanksgiving - yes, that is cranberry sauce in the Tupperware on the top shelf- or made with so many preservatives and sugar that it won't spoil for another 18 months, were the fixings for macaroni and cheese and quesadillas – a carb and dairy fiesta without a vegetable or fruit in sight! Needless to say, my daughters loved it.
So I go and try to speak with the teacher about it. His hands are tied because it comes from the district and he suggests I talk to the principal, who says his hands are tied because it comes from the district. You’re getting the idea here - it comes from the district is the code word for buzz off and stop bothering us and we’ll placate you by passing you on to some anonymous person at the district office who will (because we know how flexible and accommodating large bureaucratic offices can be, particularly one like LAUSD who listens to its constituents about as well as my husband hears me when I’m asking him to take out the trash) ignore you. So I go talk to the office secretary – who oftentimes can move mountains when those above her can’t and I’m told (or dare I say talked down to) that I’m making more out of it than I need to, that those policies are in place for children who are habitually truant and that I should ignore the situation and just let my kid get the five unexcused absences that she is going to receive after we visit the other schools we are considering for sixth grade.
Surely I can’t be the only parent who is taking their kid to look at other schools and who is dealing with this issue, so I asked around to find out what the other parents were doing and most of them said they were lying and saying their child was sick. Clearly, I was the fool for trying to be conscientious and help my kid stay caught up on their work and told the school what we were doing. Silly me. I guess in my mind I couldn’t possibly imagine that you would be penalized for going to another school – even other LAUSD schools who schedule their audition/interview times during the LAUSD school day, ensuring that you will receive a tardy that day. Ah, the wisdom of the system. So, basically, LAUSD forces you either to lie or face the consequences for trying to get a good education for your child.
So, after bothering the secretary a second time, risking her wrath as she's raising her voice at me to stop worrying about this, it comes out what this is really all about…money. Foolish me. It’s always about money. Every day that a child is absent from school, the school loses funds from the state – I don’t know how much exactly, someone once told me it was $30 per day per student, but I don’t know for sure - but to keep from losing that money, they want your kid in school, even if your kid is involved in the academic endeavor (not going to Disneyland)of trying to figure out where they are going to go next on their educational journey. What if a kid does something stellar - wins an award, gets some type of recognition, has a chance for a special internship day and misses school? Unexcused! Next time I’ll know to lie.
So, does LAUSD penalize students for investigating educational options? Feels like it to me. And while I know these policies are in place to address the issue of kids facing real academic and attendance problems, why punish the kids trying to do the right thing along with those who are in serious academic trouble due to truancy? Don’t just lump them all in together under a blanket policy or staff who feel unable (or unwilling, I’m still cranky about how the school handled it but maybe because I’ve only had one cup of coffee today – no cream in the refrigerator because I still haven’t done the grocery shopping) to help. This is why the system is broken in so many ways, big and small. Unable to meet the needs of all, they focus on the punitive and not the supportive, the rigid and not the flexible, and on the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.