Don’t Come to School Sick!

Alicia Abramson and Peter Jebsen

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While few look forward to the chilly temperatures and light drizzles of a Los Angeles winter, the dawn of February brings with it a host of other problems — most notably, an onslaught of diseases. And, as one might expect, a cramped school overflowing with teenagers is a hotbed for festering bacteria and contagious viruses to jump from person to person with an ease that is not fostered by any other kind of environment. A school is unique in that it takes three thousand students and crams 40 of them at a time into classrooms so small that kids are sitting within two-foot margins of each other, breathing the same air and sneezing all over one another — in other words, a bacteriophage’s wet dream.

Every school in the country has the same rule: Don’t come to school if you’re sick. Go home at the first sign of symptoms and don’t come back until 24 hours after those symptoms have disappeared. This is typical of all schools, Pali High included.

And yet, despite the distinct ease with which pathogens spread and the policies set in place by administrations, students continue to show up to class in coughing fits, spreading germs left and right and contaminating desks and utensils with their mucus. Not only is this detrimental to the physical health of the sick student, it also makes their peers vulnerable to catching the same ailment and spreading it further. When one student shows up sick, tens more follow, until half the school seems to be suffering from pinkeye and the epidemic has no end in sight.

So why does this phenomenon continue? The physical and moral repercussions would seemingly outweigh the negligible benefits of coming to school sick. The blame, as it so often is, can be placed on America’s flawed education system, one that rewards unhealthy behaviors and condemns any sign of weakness — even if that weakness is the stomach flu. The United States has created a system in which students who have pus leaking out of their eyes are showing up to school for fear of falling behind. It’s nothing to do with ignorance or selfishness, as the majority of students are very aware of the consequences of attending school while ill. Rather, it’s due to a perverse need to keep up — with courses, classmates, schoolwork — that has been ingrained in the minds of American teenagers since elementary school. The blood-curdling fear of falling behind is enough for students to drag their decaying bodies out of bed and suffer through three periods of lectures that their disease-addled brains can barely comprehend as their weakening immune systems struggle to ward off further infection.

“But wait,” you cry in dismay, “shouldn’t that aforementioned school policy allow students time to catch up on missed classes?” So one would think. But alas, such is not the case, and students instead find themselves desperately scrambling to make up missed work. This highlights the hypocrisy of schools and the disconnect between administration and teachers. Schools make money based on attendance, a certain dollar amount per present pupil. When students transmit diseases by coming to school sick, the situation spirals as more and more catch the infection until there are far more absences than there would have been if Patient Zero had just stayed home for a couple of days and avoided spreading his germs, thus causing the school to lose money.

Teachers, however, follow a different philosophy: Their class waits for no man. If you’re absent, you have to make up missed work immediately to stay caught up. Though often inadvertently, teachers do enforce this mindset of school taking precedence over personal health because classes and students simply cannot afford to fall behind schedule.

As evidenced by the outbreak in February, this system needs to change. Students and teachers ought to seek a compromise. First, pupils must take responsibility and stay in bed when sick. Regardless of the personal consequences, they owe it to other students to remain at home. In concession, teachers should offer more flexible options for making up work. Hopefully, the combination of their efforts will create a better campus, benefiting the ill and healthy alike.

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The online student newspaper of Palisades Charter High School
Don’t Come to School Sick!