As this ferocious flu season rages on, school districts are wisely urging infected students to stay home to keep the bug from spreading. It’s common sense. So it would be wise for districts to make an exception to policies that allow kids with a minimum number of absences to skip some final exams. Instead, the districts are holding firm, which amounts to encouraging kids to come to school sick, and that puts everyone’s well-being at risk.
In Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, high school students who earn an A or B in a class and have no more than four absences in Pinellas or five in Hillsborough are generally exempt from the course final. (Pasco County does not offer exam exemptions.) There are pre-approved cases such as religious holidays and college visits that do not count against a student’s absences. But getting sick does. That’s for good reason — students would probably claim all manner of diseases if it got them out of taking a final.
But even the soundest policies should have exceptions, and this is no ordinary flu season. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco all have reported at least five outbreaks. Emergency rooms and doctor’s offices are crowded with people experiencing symptoms. Last week, Calvary Christian High in Clearwater closed down when more than 100 students and faculty fell ill.
School district officials are fully aware of the threat. Pinellas recently sent a letter home reminding parents that kids running a temperature should not return to school until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours. But that prudence hasn’t extended to the exam exemption policy in either Hillsborough or Pinellas, which are not granting any health-related waivers even for documented flu cases. Pinellas spokeswoman Lisa Wolf noted that "exams are not a punishment, they help determine mastery of subject."
But getting to skip exams is certainly a reward, and some students who are on track to exempt will be inclined to bring their germs to school rather than lose that privilege. The public health risk is real, and school districts should do everything in their power to encourage sick students to stay home — starting with a flu waiver this year.