A student, swathed in a thick suede sweater and sporting oversized sweatpants, stumbles into class. Shoulders shaking with each sporadic fit of violent coughing, he mentally braces himself for a miserable day of school, which he, despite his physically weak condition, instinctively feels forced to attend because it’s just too hard to miss school and keep up.
High school students often feel pressured to come to school even when they are sick, especially at an academically competitive school like TPHS.
“I would say [academic pressure] is greater in our community than it is in other districts,” principal Rob Coppo said. “We attract families that want to go to very high-achieving schools, and so it tends to come with the territory.”
SDUHSD has a “no shot, no school” policy that prevents students without certain immunizations from being enrolled in school. However, this has not prevented student absences from illnesses. The severity of the recent flu season in San Diego, resulting in a total of 91 flu-related deaths, according to the San Diego County, only serves to emphasize this point.
“I think [the flu] is still going on, but, before break, students told me that half of their classes were empty and teachers were absent,” English teacher Catherine Moffett said.
Unable to concentrate because of his runny nose, the student reluctantly takes out another tissue, which, after being used, is added to the small pile of crumpled-up tissues at the corner of his desk. After trying to discreetly blow his nose yet another time, the student picks up his pencil, shrugs off his exhaustion and continues to brave another barrage of questions.
“Missing a day of school comes with the makeup work [or] missing an explanation from a teacher that might be important,” Neilah Soliday (10) said. “Those kinds of things are really difficult to come back from.”
Leslie Chan (12) knows all too well that making up tests can be both a time-consuming and daunting process for students and teachers because of scheduling issues. Up to this day, Chan has never missed a day of school, even when she was sick with the flu.
While Chan has reconciled, some find that coming to school sick whether or not there is a test is not an acceptable act. Sarah Keshavarz (12), holds this exact opinion.
“I feel like kids shouldn’t go to school when they’re sick. Just stay home. You can just email the teacher and ask if you can take the test later,” Keshavarz said. “Just take a sick day, it’s better for everyone if you don’t come.”
Thoughts like ‘I really shouldn’t be here. My head hurts,’ flash across the student’s mind as he throws away his used tissues. Instead of feeling relieved and excited when the lunch bell rings, he is only reminded of the last two hours that he must endure.
According to Coppo, there are rules that prevent sick students from coming to school, though it is questionable whether they are adhered to.
“If you are vomiting, you need to stay at home. The vomiting needs to be cleared for 24 hours before you return to school … and if the student is bleeding for some reason, anything where we would have to invoke bloodborne pathogens procedures, we ask that the students stay at home,” Coppo said.
SDUHSD rules also state that anyone with a fever should not go to school until the fever has passed for a full 24 hours.
Primary Care Registered Nurse Mari Pender-Ahles, also agrees with the district rules.
“If you have a high temperature, you should not be going to school,” Pender-Ahles said. “[Students] can spread a virus [or infection] to others.”
Soliday, who describes herself as someone who gets sick frequently, considers illness disruptive, but when “academic pressures [combines] with the frequency I get sick, I would come to school.”
“Taking into account our school’s makeup work, I would come despite the fact I could get other people sick,” Soliday said.
“Mom, I’m not feeling well. Can you come pick me up?” the student cautiously speaks into the phone. He listens, hangs up, then changes his course from walking to the nurse’s office to his sixth-period class.
Although students disagree on whether to come to school or not, staff and students alike seem to agree that makeup work is difficult.
“It’s always easier if you [go to school] because you can get that work. Makeup work is really, really difficult for the teacher [and] … I think makeup work should be more difficult [for students],” Coppo said. “[Doing] makeup work should not be a normal practice.”
While some teachers are more lenient about making up work for sick days, others are not.
“I think our school could do better in a lot of ways in terms of helping people make things up,” Soliday said. “During lunch and after school, I have club meetings, but [one of] my teacher[s] doesn’t let me make up anything in class, and that’s something that I need.”
The student enters his house with feet barely dragging across the floor — the same way he walked out of drama club — not able to muster the will to pick them up any further. Flopping face-down on the couch closest to the door, he takes his first deep breath of the day. “Five minutes,” he thinks. “Five minutes and then I’ll get up. And then I’ll do my homework for AP Calculus and AP Bio. And then I’ll go to practice … and then I can go to sleep.”