May 3, 2009

Excused Absences

The school year is drawing to an end and enough time has passed that I feel I can write about the incident referenced in my Getting Started post without my blood boiling. Sassy started attending a private high school last fall - it was a big decision for all of us. She wanted to be with most of her friends who were going to the public high school less than a mile from our home (only one good friend was also attending the private school) and she was feeling anxious about transitioning from a little pond (42 in her 8th grade class) to a big pond (approx. 200). We cautioned her there were even more kids per grade in the public school (approx. 600) and we felt she'd get the structure and motivation she needed from the private school. Both hubby and I graduated from private high schools (same sex no less) so we're a bit biased, but I honestly gave public school serious thought. For one thing, it's free (or I should say already funded by our tax dollars) and for another, our neighbors kids went there and one went on to Harvard and another just graduated from West Point. In the end we decided private and we've had our ups and downs, but in general we feel it was the right decision. Except for the unexcused absence.

I let my daughter out of school early the day "Twilight" opened. Sassy is obsessed with the books and I had become equally obsessed by the time the movie debuted in November. The school transition had been rough for Sassy and I thought she deserved a little something special. I was also anxious to spend time with her over a shared interest. I wrote a note a couple of days in advance advising the school of her absence - I did not ask permission or cite a reason, rather I wrote a general request - Please excuse Sassy from school on Friday, November 21st. I picked up Sassy and her friend "Chica" (whose mother had given permission as well) for our date at Noon - just two hours shy of the end of the school day. We ate lunch, saw the movie and had a great time. The next Monday Sassy came home from school with a detention notice. One of the vice principals knew she was at a movie and said this was not an "excused absence" so she would pay the penalty with an hour of detention on an upcoming Wednesday after school. I asked Sassy how the vp knew she attended a movie and she said they saw him as she and Chica left on Friday and he told them to "cheer loudly". Sassy asked what he meant and he said he assumed they were going to the school swim meet. Sassy truthfully replied they were going to a movie with her mom.

In the end I believe she was punished for telling the truth - she went to a movie and vp did not think it was an acceptable reason to miss school. I called vp and stated my belief that it should not matter why she was out of school nor what she was doing with her time, the fact is I approved the absence and provided advance notice. He stated all absences must be approved by the school per the handbook (which I neglected to read cover to cover, surely everyone else does). I provided alternate scenarios and he replied that had Sassy gone to the school swim meet or been out for a planned vacation (I gave the example of a Noon absence for a weekend trip to an out of town waterpark), then these would have been approved. He used the analogy of taking her out of school to go shopping for the afternoon. My response was that it is not their right to determine how we spend our family time and that I see no difference between a family vacation for a weekend and a "family day". I felt he was judging me as a parent and my right to determine what is an acceptable use of family time. He stood by his decision (and went so far as to say he could have actually given her two hours) and we ended our conversation at an impasse. Sassy served the hour of detention and said it was a joke because it's not well supervised and everyone clowns around the whole time. Others may not agree with why I allowed Sassy out of school, but I feel the principle is I as the parent approved the absence and that should be enough. Maybe I would have understood his reasoning if she had missed a lot of school, but she had zero absences up to that point. I felt he was self-righteous and that irks me. If she had lied, he would have never known the difference and I'm not okay with his punishing her for telling the truth.

Months later when we took our planned family vacation I wrote a note - Please excuse Sassy from school the week of January x. I expect this absence will be excused and if there are any questions please contact me immediately . I wrote it on paper with another private school logo at the top. We never heard a word. Passive-aggressive maybe, but it felt good!

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