Should Students Feel Pressured to Come to School When They Are Sick?

Credit: Theo Saujet
Results of a survey sent to 398 students on 1/18/2022.

Even before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hackley’s demanding curriculum forced students who felt sick to debate whether or not they should come to school. In the Covid era, the tension between staying home and coming to school is even more fraught as symptomatic students have to choose between attending school, perhaps risking a spread of COVID, versus risking falling behind in their classes or other costs of staying out.

Senior Claire Robertson is one of the many Hackley students who has faced the harsh effects of taking sick days. Recently, Claire was sick and “spent hours catching up on work at home. Sometimes even going to bed at 1:00 a.m. just grinding through work.” She said that her “teachers were cooperative, but Hackley’s rigorous curriculum makes you get behind.” 

Junior John Churchill had a similar experience. John had a high fever this year and chose to stay home and recover from Monday through Wednesday. He was too sick to catch up on schoolwork on Monday and Tuesday, so he woke up on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. – “I spent 10:00 a.m. all the way to dinner catching up on work. I even did work while I was eating my meals. It was not fun,” John said. 

The results of a survey sent out to all upper school students on January 18th, 2022, indicated that of those who came to school sick, ninety percent worried about falling behind on their work.

Upper School Director Andy King, was not surprised to see these results.

He said that Hackley is a “fast pace place and lots of things happen and you don’t want to get behind,”  and added, “I also would like to think that students have an awareness that teachers, on the whole, are flexible.”

“If you’re legitimately not feeling well […] can you afford to miss one or two days? You can, you can actually. Yes it can be challenging […] and this is one of those moments where I would hope students would reach out to a teacher, a dean, an advisor, me, Mr. Arnold, and say ‘listen I’ve been dealing with this and I need to make up work’,” said Mr. King.

Mr. King recommends staying at home if symptomatic, as stated by Hackley’s official policy. The Handbook,  states that “if a student is ill and therefore absent from school, or if a student misses school for compelling personal or religious reasons, this student will receive help from teachers to make up the missed work. Any student who misses school should arrange to make up work in a timely manner according to a schedule established with the student’s teacher. When a student misses a significant amount of school the student should arrange a schedule of completion with the assistance of their advisor, their dean, and Support Services.”

Mr. King re-emphasized the Handbook and offered further advice for sick students: “Communication is always your friend” and to reach out to teachers if you miss anything. Advisors and deans really come in handy in these moments. “Wellness has a lot of layers, there’s the physical wellness […] and also feeling well about how you’re approaching your school,” he said.  “So much of our (faculty) email conversations and faculty conversations have just been “if there’s ever time for flexibility and accommodation these are them […] and I think teachers have been extraordinary in that regard.”
Students should “tell us [faculty] when you need help!” Faculty want to be able to help students and are willing to be flexible.  

Mrs. Clingen, who has been a Hackley advisor for thirty-eight years, has a similar standpoint to Mr. King. When a student is out, Mrs. Clingen said “that because there are so many subjects involved, an advisor is a good first step to put a plan together…Teachers just want to see a game plan and an advisor can help students develop that.” 

As an advisor, “it is really good to draw some clear lines for completion” to help their students alleviate some of the stress, and usually “teachers will be accommodating,” said Mrs. Clingen.