By Stephanie Deutsch and Sophie Mancall-Bitel
Kristin Chan â07 sits in a Rugby classroom during her senior class meeting, filling out what can only be described as a monster of a survey on studentsâ workloads: 25 pages of questions about extracurriculars, AP classes and how much time students truly spend online every night while working on homework. She gets to question number 59: âDuring the past trimester, I have missed the following days of school because of my inability to complete an assignment, study for a test or because I just felt overwhelmed: 0 days, 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 4 days or more.â
Without much thought, she circles â0 daysâ and moves on.
Though many upper school students are known for their utter refusal to miss school, even when faced with a high fever and incessant coughing, others have taken to taking a day off school after a particularly late night. Some label these days âsick days,â while other have embraced the prospect of taking a mental health day every once in a while.
The survey was created by a FAC subcommittee on student workload. The committee has begun to filter through the results, but will not finish calculating until spring.
Two weeks after filling out the workload survey, Chan missed school for the first time in her senior year. The next day she missed school for the second time.
âI had a test on Thursday [first period] and I came to school because I didnât want to miss it,â she said, but then Chan went home to sleep. âI had already done the homework and everything for that day, but I really didnât feel good, so I went home. I was planning on going to school the next day, but then I slept for 20 hours. On Friday, I wasnât as bad as I was Thursday. I just didnât wake up. I needed rest. I hadnât gotten any.â
Though Chanâs father let her sleep through Friday without any indication of a high fever or flu-like symptoms, her parents are not believers in the mental health day as a concept.
âThey donât let me skip school unless Iâm actually sick,â she said. âIf Iâm not feeling well, maybe like, feeling not that bad, but not really good, theyâll just be like, âYouâre fine, go take medicine and go to school.ââ
Some parents, however, do encourage their children to take a day off. Colin Turner â08 said his parents donât mind as long as he is responsible about making up work missed andâonce in a whileâwill write him an excuse note to hand in to Attendance Coordinator Gabriel Preciado saying he had been sick.
âIâve become notorious for not being in school nowadays,â Turner said. âIf it is just one of those days where I really canât get out of bed, and I have no big projects or tests coming up, then it helps a lot.â
Preciado often finds seemingly healthy students in his office claiming a need to go home early due to illness, he said.
âI notice a lot of students coming to school ill,â he said. âThatâs what the note says, but to me, they appear healthy. Iâm not in the position to assume anything.â
Preciado never questions the parentsâ notes or calls, believing it is not his place to do so, he said.
The only time he gets involved in a studentâs excused absences is if a concerned teacher who believes a student may be purposefully missing test days, asks for the studentâs attendance record.
In these cases, however, it is usually the teacher or the studentâs dean who deals with the situation.
School psychologist Luba Bek has recommended that students take a day off due to stress, though not often, she said.
âIn my belief, itâs better to be physically healthy then get an extra A,â she said.
Many of the students who talk to her âwith the door openâ come to her about stress, Bek said, and those that do are mainly juniors and first-semester seniors. She also allows every student in her Choices and Challenges class to take one period off for a break.
For many students, the prospect of making up work missed during one day off of school is overwhelming enough to scare them out of taking any days off. Deans Jason Honsel and Jim Patterson have both recommended that students go home when they seem under the weather, but they show up at school anyway.
Patterson said he has, on occasion, excused students from class because they were too overwhelmed. Among her friends, Eliza Eddison â07 is infamous for her refusal to miss school, even when ill.
âAs much as everyone needs a day off now and then, I always freak myself out about what Iâm missing, and then I end up more sick than I started out,â she said.
When Chan thinks about making up the two days of missed work, she sighs.
âOh, [it was] horrible,â she said with a laugh that conveys more apprehension and exhaustion than humor. âItâs really bad missing a day, and if you miss two days in a rowâ¦â Her voice trails off warningly. âMonday I would have had two frees and break, but instead I had no frees and I had to stay after school to take a test. Today I would have had one free, but I had to come to school early to meet with one teacher, and I had to meet with another teacher during my free. I still feel like Iâm behind.â
Chan did feel that her teachers were, for the most part, understanding about her plight, she said.
âNone of them were mean about it, but some were way nicer than others,â she said.
Bek appeals to teachers to be sympathetic when students miss a class.
âTeachers take it personally with students missing school, but itâs not personal,â she said. âTheyâre kids.â