It’s time to rethink perfect attendance

Guest Column by Andy Glatfelter

March 23, 2020
Acknowledging our students’ efforts during awards assemblies is a truly enjoyable experience. But the moment I realized the harm caused by perfect attendance awards came suddenly.  I was announcing the names of adorable kindergartners who hadn’t missed a day of school all year. They proudly walked across the stage to accept their certificates, beaming at their parents in the audience. Then, without warning, one of them violently erupted with vomit all over the award and onto the linoleum floor below.  My reaction was visceral: this isn’t right. A few days later I spoke with a mother whose daughter had not missed a day of school from kindergarten through eighth grade. Incredulous, I asked, “Didn’t she ever get sick?”  “Oh, yes,” the mom replied. “She once had a fever of 104 degrees, but I made sure she came to school for a few minutes to keep her streak going.”  Perfect attendance awards incentivize this behavior and put staff and students at risk. Kids will get sick. They should stay home after vomiting or a fever, but we contradict this message by offering an award for never missing a day. The teachers decided instead to offer an “excellent attendance” award. We asked parents not to let their children miss school whenever possible, but for 24 hours after fever or vomiting, we told them their kids had to stay home. We also told parents not to worry about missing out on an award because they followed the advice of healthcare professionals.  And the result? Our overall attendance percentage increased, with the highest rate in the district. Parents and teachers don’t want feverish classmates coming to school to spread infection, which makes the long-established practice of the perfect attendance award something to seriously reconsider, especially given current public health concerns about the coronavirus. Andy Glatfelter is principal of the Fulton & Alsbury Academy in the Lancaster School District. He holds an Ed.D. from UCLA’s Educational Leadership Program.

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