Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Sick Kids in Schools

Here's a curious story that happened long ego enough that I think it's finally okay to tell it. 

About 18 years ago I was cautiously pregnant. From the very beginning doctors and midwives kept telling me, "This one might not be viable." Add to that, at 39 I was really old to be having another kid. So, about five months along, I was shipped off to Toronto where they had a fancy machine to do some tests that would see whether or not the pregnancy should continue. They were worried about Edward's Syndrome, which has a 50% fatality rate within a week of birth. For those who make it past that first week, they might make it a few years with constant medical interventions. They'll have a short life full of suffering.   

At five months, you've already felt the baby move, so this was a very difficult day. Even worse, when they tried the test, the fetus was in a bad position. They needed it to roll over, so they gave me a chocolate bar and told me to run up and down the hallway to "wake it up." I had to rouse this tiny being for a test that was going to help me decide whether or not to "terminate" it. Yikes.

Long story short, the best they could do was to give me 50/50 odds, and I gambled and won. My little one is still going strong, except she's very very sick right now. She likely has Covid even though she keeps testing negative. She went to stay with her dad for a couple months, and they don't mask anymore, and there you go. I'm making my peace with that. 

But that's not the funny part. There's more

When I was just getting to the hospital in Toronto, two hours from home, I got a call from my oldest's school. My 9-year-old was sick and needed to go home. I asked to speak to the little monkey. They had left school early the previous week and seemed fine, and I suspected that they had come to the realization that feigning illness would get them some quiet playtime in their room - their favourite thing. As I guessed, they said they're actually okay and, yes, they're fine to just go back to class. They didn't really feel sick at all. 

"Not so fast!" roared the attendance secretary. Once a kid says they don't feel well, even if they start to feel better, the parent has to come get them no matter what. So I explained that I was two hours away, at a hospital getting a procedure done, and couldn't make it there before the end of the school day. I had a babysitter set to pick up the kids from school that day. BUT, my kid also has a dad who works just down the street. 

Dad wouldn't take the call because it would interrupt his day, so we tried his wife, their step-mother, who works with their dad. She said she would help except she hadn't brought the car that day so couldn't conceivably get my precious bumble of joy. I offered to pay for a cab to take her the whole 3 km journey, but nope! Impossible! Despite the fact that their dad was available and nearby, that's as far as the secretary went down that path. 

Then the Principal got involved. She actually suggested that my 13-year-old babysitter be called out to leave her school halfway through the day to come get my kid. I wouldn't tell them the babysitter's name because she should not be made to leave school early to babysit. In fact, it's illegal to hire a student to do work during school hours!  

The principal insisted that, as the mom, I had to come immediately. When I refused because I was IN A HOSPITAL IN TORONTO with a pregnancy that MIGHT NOT BE VIABLE, the principal completely lost it on me and demanded to know, "Is Joe Blow the father of your baby?!!

I responded, "Wha...?"

So, Joe Blow (not his real name) is a good friend that I worked with. When the secretary called my school looking for me, he happened to answer the phone in our shared office and told them to try my partner's cell number. And, being the nice guy he is, he offered to help out if needed. He also happened to have DATED THE PRINCIPAL of my kids' school for a couple years, and, apparently, she was always a little jealous of his friendship with me.

I explained that he is not the father, and the principal got all quiet for a bit, realizing she had lost any semblance of professionalism. I told her I'd try their dad again. I finally got him to take my call, via his wife, and he begrudgingly agreed to do this one favour for me. (He's one of those dads who calls it "babysitting" when he has the kids for the weekend.) Whew! Problem solved. Hurray! And my oldest never lied about being sick ever again. 

But here's the thing. I'm hearing from teachers right now who have 8 or 10 or 5 kids in the class, and half of them are visibly ill. The kids are in high school, old enough to go home all by themselves, but their parents will get on their case if they're miss any more school, and WE CAN'T MAKE THEM LEAVE. Kids have a right to be in the building. They belong in the classroom. 

What my kid's secretary and principal did definitely crossed a line of reason and good sense and all sorts of things that shouldn't be crossed, not to mention being outrageously sexist. But how are we at a place during a pandemic that schools can no longer demand that sick kids be sent home???

Another funny thing: In my Master's program at WLU, we have to sign a paper each class for attendance. We've been warned that if we don't physically attend, then we could be kicked out of the program. Another student in my class is in the process of grieving their removal from the program. I've got three degrees under my belt already, and I've never before had a class demand my physical presence, much less assign 10% of the mark for just existing in the room. I once had a psych class with a prof who literally read the textbook to us, so I just showed up for the midterm and final and got an A. I've missed three classes so far this term, and I'm just waiting to see what happens to me. I'll take a 5% loss in my grade, but I'll raise holy hell if I get kicked out. I missed the last class because the previous class was full of people coughing and only half of them wear masks. I emailed the class and the prof to please be mindful of the mask mandate at the school. I wouldn't have stayed in the program without that mandate in place, and it would be great if people could follow it. The rules say people can unmask to present, giving all profs an out, even though talking spreads the virus more, and many students have taken that to mean they can take off their masks any time they talk, even just chatting to another classmate. 

But I'm left wondering: What political pressure is coming down the pipes that is forcing sick kids to remain in schools where they're making other kids sick, and pressuring universities to even track and grade attendance? How is that a thing?? If attendance secretaries of old felt comfortable demanding mums drop everything - even a medical procedure - to pick up their kid, what happened in the last 18 years that leaves them unable or unwilling to demand that sick children be kept at home DURING A PANDEMIC??

And how is this not a cull of our children?

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