Rethink summer school sick policy


POSTED: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Leeward Oahu high school's policy of singling out swine flu as the only illness causing an excusable absence from summer school contradicts the state Department of Health's view that seasonal flu is just as serious as the novel H1N1 variety.

Another perplexing factor in the case of a Kapolei High School student dismissed from the program after being out sick for two days is how educators can say with a straight face that a single day of summer school equals two weeks of the regular school year.

Freshman Matthew Barton failed history during the regular school year, and so was required to make up the class in the summer. When he suffered flu symptoms and missed two days, his dad figured a doctor's note would excuse the absence.

But the summer school director wasn't having it, instead dismissing him from the month-long program and refusing to refund the $200 entry fee.

The only exceptions to the strict attendance policy, which allows one absence per each two-week semester, are if the student is diagnosed with swine flu or is ordered to appear in court.

Matthew's dad, Paul Barton, contends that although he was aware of the policy when his son signed up for the class, refusing the doctor's note unwisely encourages sick kids to come to school and infect their classmates and teachers.

Excusing students with swine flu, but not other types of influenza or other contagious illnesses, is misguided, especially given that the health department has devoted considerable resources to spreading the word that swine flu is not that different from seasonal flu.

Seasonal flu is just as contagious and potentially serious, and patients are urged to take the same precautions to avoid spreading it, including staying home from work or school when sick, a health department spokeswoman confirmed yesterday.

Also arguable is the school's assertion that one day of summer school equals two weeks of regular school. Certainly, summer school for credit provides a more intensive, fast-paced environment that leaves little room for extended absences. But to unequivocally state that no student could possibly miss two straight days and manage to catch up is implausible, to say the least.

Randall Miura, summer school coordinator for the Leeward Oahu district, acknowledges that Kapolei's policy is tough, but stresses that daily attendance is vital because the students are earning credits needed for high school graduation.

He said students dismissed from Kapolei or from other public summer schools should talk to their school counselors to explore other ways to make up credits.

But perhaps school administrators and teachers should be talking to each other, about how to devise a program for next summer that provides failing students an opportunity to learn enough to pass the class—even if they are unlucky enough to catch the flu, swine or otherwise.

Surely a student could do enough reading, research and writing at home to compensate for a couple of days of missed lectures. By adhering so rigidly to policy, administrators surrender their own reason and judgment, which is a lesson in itself.