Technology has changed a lot for parents. When I was in school, skipping class might mean your parents got a call from teachers. Probably not, though. Not unless it became a problem.
In truth, I didn’t test that. In four years of high school I had a grand total of one hour’s unexcused absence. It came when, during my senior year, my friends and I decided we were sick of the cafeteria’s food and wanted something else. So we went to a nearby fast food place, ate, and timed our return to blend in with the lunch crowds.
Hardly the stuff of an unrepentant truant, I know. But we also knew that our parents might understand one time. They would be much less forgiving of anything that even looked like habitual absences.
Today, parents will get automated messages if their children miss a class. I’ve gotten a couple this year. Here’s the thing, though: none of them have been for unexcused absences.
The ones I have gotten have been when my children were participating in school-sanctioned practices or events, times when someone within the high school either didn’t post a proper notification or didn’t bother to check. For a parent, that’s frustrating.
I understand the challenge for the school. They’re trying to track where several hundred students are at all times, and they would face justified criticism if they failed to do so. It’s not easy, and telling the difference between an excused absence and one that’s not is never as simple as just asking the student. Which answer do you think they’d give?
But the repeated notifications indicate a problem. So do stories from other parents I’ve heard from who said they tried calling the school multiple times to give prior notice of a doctor’s appointment or other event that would require an absence. In those cases, they didn’t get a return phone call, but did get an email claiming the student was gone without permission. When parents make a good faith effort and the school ignores it, that’s not acceptable.
One lesson I learned has guided me on how to handle these incidents, though. I didn’t have a car my first couple years of college. At the end of my sophomore year my parents dropped one off so I could get home. I bought it from them a week or two later — my first car.
The campus was about a half-hour from Columbia, Mo., where the University of Missouri is located, so it wasn’t uncommon for students to pile into one vehicle or another and head over that way.
When I got home, Mom had a question: “What were you doing in Columbia on Saturday?” I thought for a moment, then realized I hadn’t been there that day. Why, she asked, did we get a letter from the Columbia police saying you were?
I looked at the letter. It said someone reported a reckless driver and got the license plate. I read it carefully. Something didn’t look right. When I stepped outside to check my suspicion, I saw the plate number on the letter wasn’t the same as the car I had driven. It was Dad’s car. He hadn’t been in Columbia, either.
Mom never apologized for accusing me of lying about where I was. That’s not her approach to life. But I remember what a difference it would have made had she been less confrontational.
So when I started getting these notices this year, I didn’t accuse. I just asked whether my kids could explain. They could. No big deal.
That said, I’d rather not get any more for the rest of the year. And that shouldn’t really be a big deal, either.