Thursday, March 31, 2011

It May Take a Village, But Sometimes the Villagers Need to Mind Their Own Business

My older daughter, who is in Kindergarten, is a pretty healthy kid. Or at least was until she started school. She has been sick more times this school year than in her previous five years of life combined. In fact our pediatrician even made a comment to the effect of "I've seen her more this year than I have ever before." I know much of that comes with the territory of starting school and having a wider range of exposure, coupled with kids who are visibly sick who are sent to school when they clearly should be kept home. As a result waves of illness have rippled through our house almost all year long. So, our daughter has had some absences, not more than the 10 percent of total school days allowed by state law but we are cutting it close.

Today my daughter had a half day. I scheduled a dentist appointment pretty close to dismissal time so I went in to grab our daughter 10 minutes early (the Kindergarten students line up at 10 till anyway). As I was waiting for her to come up to the office, the school receptionist, and her position is important to my story, the RECEPTIONIST, not the principal, teacher, or even principal's secretary, but the RECEPTIONIST says, "Your daughter has had a lot of absences." She says this in the front office, where other parents are also waiting and listening. The following is an almost verbatim exchange (I began recording the conversation after the initial sentence because I was so angry).

Me: "Yes, she has unfortunately been sick a lot this year."
Her: "Yes, but she's had a lot. Most of them sick and some personal" (For the record, she missed three days when she stayed with m parents when I gave birth to our third child and the others were illness related, all of which I have documentation to support if I felt it necessary to provide).
Me: "Well, she has been sick more this year than she has been in her previous five years combined. I don't know what I can really do about that."
Her: "You're not concerned about her absences?"
Me: "No, she is doing fine in class and her teacher is not concerned about her progress so I am not concerned."
Her: "So you don't think attendance is important?"
Me: "I didn't say that. What I said was I am not concerned with her progress as her absences are not negatively impacting her performance."
Her: "You never took her to the doctor any of those times?"
Me: "Yes, I took her to the doctor for most of them. She was in the hospital at one point."
Her: "Well, can you bring in documentation to support that? You know to prove that they were medical absences?"
Me: "I don't feel that I am obligated to provide you with my daughter's medical records to support or justify parental decisions that my husband and I made in regards to the care of our daughter."
Her: "Well, if you had them they would support the absences."
Me: "Well, in the state of Arizona Kindergarten isn't even mandatory so I see no reason to provide medical documentation to excuse absences from something that isn't even mandated."
Her: "But don't you think that her attendance at school is important?"
Me: "Yes, but it is what it is. She has been sick. We appear to be one of the few families who actually keeps our sick kids home. I resent sending my kid to school and having her constantly ill, then spreading that through the rest of my family, because students who are clearly ill are not only sent to school by their parents but then allowed to stay here by the staff who can clearly see they are ill. I further resent being publicly questioned about the legitimacy of my daughter's absences. She is doing well in school and that is the bottom line. If her teacher isn't concerned I find it suspect that you are."
Her: "Well, it's just my job to let you know."

At that point my daughter had arrived and we left. I have multiple points of contention with this interaction. First, we just got my daughter's 3rd quarter report card yesterday. She received the highest marks possible in EVERY SINGLE category. She is clearly doing fine academically and socially. Additionally there is a spot on the report card that says, "Do absences or tardies affect performance?" Her teacher answered, "No." Secondly, the school has half days today and Friday for parent conferences. We received a note last week from her teacher stating that our daughter is doing well and the teacher has no concerned and thus doesn't deem a conference to be necessary, but we could request one if we had concerns. We declined. Along those lines I volunteer in my daughter's class once a week. I am present and involved and the receptionist knows this. Generally speaking, the kids who miss for less than legitimate reasons usually don't have parents actively involved at the school. It is also worth mentioning that her teacher has never once mentioned any concerns about our daughter and she and I have a great relationship. If she had concerns she would have absolutely mentioned it.

I am further bothered by the fact that the receptionist broached this topic with me at all, but additionally chose to do it publicly where the other parents in the office were privy to personal health information about my daughter as well as the contentious discussion between myself and the receptionist. I also have serious doubts about whether her job description entails confronting parents at the front desk about their children's attendance. The thing that she doesn't know is that my husband and I are both educators. We absolutely understand the importance of attendance and how vital that is to educational success. However, I don't know what the options are when our daughter was sick as often as she was (and I'm not talking colds; I'm talking Influenza A, Norwalk virus, Sinusitis, Bronchitis, and other viruses that caused very high fevers). Further, I don't understand why one would choose to make a point about it when she knows nothing about our child's academic progress. It would be one thing if her academics were suffering as a result, but they aren't and she doesn't know that because she isn't privy to that information which further calls into question why she is having this conversation with me. No other staff member has ever expressed any concerns about her absences. This includes the teacher and the principal and it includes the receptionist. If it really were her job then why did she wait until a chance encounter in the front office to broach the subject with me? If it really were her job why hasn't she called me before? She had no idea I was coming into the office today. She obviously looked at my daughter's absences in the computer when I signed her out and chose to make a point of it.

I just don't think that in any scenario it is the job of the receptionist to confront a parent about the cause of absences, especially in the presence of other parents. I find it to be beyond inappropriate and unprofessional to further question the medical necessity of such absences.

When I got home I pulled all the documentation from her doctor supporting each absence. I don't feel like I am under any obligation to provide this to the school and at this point because I am so angry I feel like I want to refuse simply out of principle. However, the other part of me wants to take them in and smack them down on the desk in front of her face and yell, "How do ya like them apples?"

I called my husband and told him the exchange and asked what he thought. He was just as upset and called the Principal immediately who agreed to meet with him tomorrow. I don't want to make a huge deal but I do want the principal to know that the receptionist crossed a line. My husband and I overall have been really pleased with our experience at this school. Our daughter's teacher is great, the principal is visible and consistently responsive, and our daughter LOVES school. Which irks me all the more that someone who is not even directly involved with my child's education is the cause of this sour feeling.

So, I'm interested in your opinion. Are we overreacting? How would you have responded if you were confronted in such a manner?


Nancy said...

WOW --
I don't think you are overreacting AT ALL. In fact I'm impressed that you had the thought to record the conversation because I would have been blinded with a white hot rage!
I think an appointment with the principal is exactly what needed to be done and perhaps the receptionist should be called in by the principal to apologize to you as well.
Let us know the followup!

Robyn said...

You are not overreacting (or under-reacting) at all. I can't believe the conversation went on for that long. I hate to say it, but I probably would have been rude, dismissive or snotty because my panties definitely get bunched when someone (especially an unqualified someone) talks badly about my kid or my parenting. I'm so glad you have a meeting scheduled, that's exactly what I would have done - that receptionist should NOT be harassing parents. Way beyond her job description, I'm sure.