Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Excuses, excuses

Today I wrote the hardest excused absence note ever. We had an 11-year-old boy and his older brother, who both came to the clinic for minor complaints, and at the very end of the visit, when I was asking if there was anything else, the older brother was like, “well—we both need excused absences. I’ve missed a little bit of work and he’s missed a lot of school. A lot of school.”

After Katrina, their mother’s job relocated her to Monroe, but the older brother’s job is in New Orleans and the younger brother is in school in New Orleans. The brothers are constantly traveling back and forth from Monroe to New Orleans, and they don’t always have reliable transportation to make this trip.

The older brother says the whole family has taken responsibility for the little one’s education: brothers and cousins and aunties all go to parents’ meetings, sign off on homework, go over spelling words before dinner. He’s doing very well in school. But a few days ago the family got a letter from the school saying he’d missed over 15 days of school in the academic year (he missed maybe 18 days), and therefore he would not be allowed to move up to the sixth grade unless they could get a doctors’ note for every one of those days, because it would be breaking state law.

Are they kidding? Providing woefully substandard education to our children is completely legal, but if an 11-year-old child misses 18 days, to go see his mother of all things, even if he still gets incredible grades, he's breaking the law?

How on earth is it helping anybody to punish this child for missing school when the whole family is working day and night to support his education, and make sure they all stay connected with each other when they’re so scattered? Any why is medical illness the only valid excuse for missing school? I know so many privileged kids whose families ”take them out of school” for a few days or even a week, so the family can go to Florida or Jazzfest, for example.

And as a healthcare provider it’s hard to be in the middle of this crazy situation, because you can’t be dishonest, of course, and at the same time I totally wanted to advocate for this child. I feel like it’s my job. I feel very strongly that there is no necessity, and no benefit, in this kid repeating a year of school, and that in many ways--healthwise and otherwise--it has the capacity to make things worse for him and his family.

So this is what I wrote: “This child was seen at our clinic today. He is currently a patient under our care. We are aware that he’s had multiple absences from school, and we are excusing him from all of these. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.”

I hope it works.


Blogger Chris said...

But how will they ever learn that it's more important to mindlessly follow rules than to understand when exceptions should be made for exceptional people in exceptional circumstances? :-[

I just wanted to say, from one (intermittent) blogger to another, that I really enjoy reading your posts about New Orleans - your descriptions of the people and places are amazing. I look forward to reading more.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

You did the right thing.

I spent a week in your city, in March, and I ache to go back. We were volunteering--and everyone we met, 9th Ward residents to wealthy tourists--were so kind to us.

Thank you.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

Hey Catherine--

Thanks for dropping by our blog. We do plan to stay connected. Michael's from MS, and thinks of NOLA as home. I'm planning to come back next January and do oral histories--to listen to all the stories I can, and publish them. (After this semester's over, I'll work on housing and funding for that.)

Thank you for connecting with us.

9:17 AM  

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