Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Don't take Mom's word for it

We almost had a milestone today -- my daughter's first sick day of middle school -- but she rallied and went in to school late and managed to make it through the day. Good thing, too; she must have known how hard it would be for me to wait another day for her report card. The whole experience made me realize, though, how different middle school is from elementary school. In elementary school, a kid's a little under the weather, you keep them home for a day, give them a little bedrest, see what happens. You send them back with a note from Mom, and all's well.

But when I called to report the middle school absence, the secretary started describing the doctor's note I'd have to get for when she returns to school. A doctor's note! My daughter was dizzy and nauseated and had thrown up her breakfast, but didn't have a fever or anything I'd take to the doctor on Day 1 of illness. I'd keep her home for a day, give her a little bedrest, see what happens. A doctor's note seemed excessive, as if any illness that doesn't keep you home for a week and require a prescription was somehow suspect. No doctor? We knew you were faking it.

I called her counselor to clarify this policy and it turns out that you only need a doctor's note if you want it to be an excused absence. If all you have is a note from Mom, that's cool; it's just an unexcused absence, of which you're allowed 11. Now right there, I'm feeling defensive: Why is a doctor's word better than mine? Am I being accused of aiding and abetting truant behavior? And if I wanted to do that, do they think I couldn't get a doctor to give me a note? A million TV commercials confer upon me the right to be Dr. Mom and administer over-the-counter meds at will; but to the middle school it's not excused unless an MD's involved? Nuts to that.

But maybe they have a point, because it was probably the fear of having the word "unexcused" anywhere on her records that got my daughter's butt up off the couch and into the car for a slightly shaky but otherwise survivable school day. And that's what we want, isn't it? Lots of semi-sick kids forcing themselves to go to school, because school is where kids should be, unless a doctor says no. Sure hope her late arrival doesn't go down as "unexcused." 'Cause next time I'll have to get our pediatrician to bring her back to campus.

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