Monday, October 27, 2008


During parent conferences several weeks ago we talked with a parent about one child's frequent absences and tardies. This girl might be working harder than anyone else in my classroom, but she is almost never on time and often absent. The parent did not seem at all impressed by our concerns. In fact it was shared that due to surgery for this parent the children would miss all of last week. We made it clear that this was not a acceptable reason for absences but it didn't matter. This girl was out all of last week. The parent even called on Monday to say that the children would be out all week for this reason. My principal immediately contacted the attendance officer. He went by their home several times last week. It's not clear to me if he ever actually spoke with the parent. The girl was late to school today. When the parent dropped the children off there was anger. This parent was upset that we had sent the attendance officer. Then went on to say that the girls would be out on Thursday for a follow up doctor's appointment for the parent. I'm beyond angry about this because of how unfair it is to a child who is working as hard as this little one. She may end up repeating first grade, not because she isn't giving it her best shot, but because she has missed so much instruction.

I have no idea what happens next. Obviously I give all I can to this child. I know the situation is not her fault. I just wish there were more we could do to get the message across.


Don Berg said...

I invite you to reconsider your attitude towards this family. I understand that you are expressing a deeply held concern for ensuring that the child gets the best possible education, but you are assuming that school should be made more important in that child's life than their family. I appreciate and applaud your concern, but I question the assumption.

I challenge the assumption that school is more important than the family. You acknowledge that this child is able to work hard and I would contend that the reason she is able to work hard may be the fact that she has a family that supports her quite well. If you get your way by sending government law enforcement officers to make them comply with your wishes then you run the risk of deteriorating the family structure that enables the child to work hard. In a time of stress in the family, due to the surgery, the school has added to their stress by attempting to interfere with their choice of keeping their family together (which incidently positively correlates with more rapid healing and recovery).

What I suggest is that you approach them with your concerns and find out how you can work with them instead of setting the government dogs on them. See if you can honor their concerns for their family and make the best of the times when she can attend.

This is probably adding a huge burden to an already heavy load, but my concern is that you might be heading down a path towards even more conflict with the family and cutting off the opportunity to make a good connection that ensures a healthy balance of school and family for your student.


Don Berg



Tracey said...

I do not agree with the last comment....I think the family has an obligation to this child's education and they are not doing this. I agree there are extenuating circumstances, but the child should be their first concern.

Is there only one adult? Are there no other family or friends that could get this child to school?

I think you were right in contacting the attendance officer. In my experience this goes on for years and there is always a "reason" why the parents are late or absent. If not this surgery then something else.

I support you!

Jenny said...

@don I was concerned that this post would generate a comment like yours. While I do see your point and don't totally disagree, I do disagree in this instance. If missing school for this one week were an isolated incident I would be more understanding. However, this child has missed 1-2 days of school every week for the first quarter of the year and been 30 minutes to an hour late on more than half of the other days. School is clearly not a priority here. In fact, the sense one gets from this parent is that we are just getting in the way. That's been the sense from the first week of school when there was a run-in with the child care center over lice. The parent's attitude was that the school was interfering by requiring treatment for the lice. I believe that this is a parent that uses the school as child care when it serves their purpose but does not go beyond that. I find it incredibly frustrating.

I work in a school with families who face many issues. As a school we do all we can to support them and give everything possible to their children. In eleven years there I've never faced a situation like this one.

Unlimited said...

Frustrating. I had a student out all last week... she missed an entire unit of social studies, huge section of math (fraction, ah!), etc... and she is in desperate need of extra attention (even when she's here every day!) I find it frustrating because it is now on us to keep them up to speed or atleast on the same track as the rest of the students. I hear you. I fear that the parent's attitude about education will mean the student will never see it as important, as well. Good luck.

damned_cat said...

This is so difficult. As educators we are called on to be culturally sensitive yet to provide students with the highest quality education possible. We would like everyone's best effort in this endeavor.

I agree that school does not seem to be the highest priority for this family. For some families it simply isn't, and never will be. I cannot judge this. I used to teach in a community that was heavily Pacific Islander, and many PI families put family issues (even routine babysitting, a birthday, etc.) before school. It was a huge cultural hurdle.

This is a different situation of course. Is there a relative or family friend who can help get the children to school until things with the parents' health issues are more stable?

David said...

Hi. I teach 4th grade here in Madison, Indiana. I spent a good amount of time browsing your site. Thanks for your words. I could relate.My site has many issues like yours. I hope to come back soon and read more. Have a good day.

dcowart said...

Personally, I think it is neglect. A child is entitled to an education and when a parent does not get their child to school, it is neglectful. I take a hard line on this because as a principal I see this all the time. There is always an excuse whether it is something serious like a family emergency or something inappropriate like a family vacation while school is in session. It may not seem like a big deal to these parents now, but wait until this child is in 5th grade and is below grade level or worse. What if this child develops the same poor view of education and becomes truant or a drop-out? Then who is to blame? I think your concern is warranted and I WOULD NOT BACK DOWN.

Stacey from Two Writing Teachers said...

Great meeting you in Providence today!