Saturday, October 22, 2011

On School Policies and Medical Problems

Today I am sad for a girl from my high school. She is a member of the high school marching and concert band. Yesterday I heard via social networking that the principal of the school* had told her she can not perform in the final band show of the year, a major competition, because she was absent for part of the school day on Friday due to a new medication making her dizzy.

Yesterday, about forty people, including me, emailed the mayor asking him to address this. Two hours ago an email arrived in my inbox, sent to the girl in question, the school committee, and the principal, and bcc'ed to those of us who had emailed him. He said, in essence, that there was nothing he could legally do, particularly on short notice. The school rules state: "A full day’s attendance is required in order to participate in any after school activity, game, dance, etc. In extraordinary circumstances that result in an absence from a class or a day of absence, the principal may rule on eligibility for participation in the after school activity. This includes practices, competitions, and extracurricular activities."

It should be noted that the competition is not exactly an extra-curricular activity; it's part of class participation for every member of the marching band except the few color guard students who are not instrumentalists in a different section for the duration of the season.** Marching band is not considered a sport, or anything of that nature. It's a class for which the homework includes practices and performances outside of class.

All that is somewhat beside the point, however: This student is being barred from an activity she's spent three months preparing for, and four years participating in. In her senior year of high school, she's not allowed to go to her last competition as a representative of the band. All because she happened, on a Friday, to take a medicine that had side-effects she couldn't control. She went to school; she just went late, and she didn't feel well when she did.

Now, maybe the medicine will make it impossible for her to participate, anyways, but it's fundamentally unfair to punish someone for doing her best to be responsible in taking care of herself and still attend even part of the school day.

Doubtless there are details I'm missing; I certainly don't know the principal and I haven't asked her why she made that decision. All I'm saying is, I think the student qualifies for the "under extraordinary circumstances" part of that rule, which would have allowed the principal to reverse that decision and allow her to participate in her last competition.

And having had my own medical problems that sometimes present difficulties for full participation in my classes, I don't understand why a medical excuse could not possibly be a valid enough reason to be allowed to participate in an event that happens two days later, as opposed to a football game the same night (which she would also normally be expected to perform at during half-time).

I'm not sure if I'm making sense. I just know that I'm extremely disappointed to hear that this happened in my hometown. I'm further disappointed because I know this girl (her older sister was in my year), and I know how much work and dedication marching band takes. And I know how much that final competition means as a senior.

*whom I don't know. There were at least three principals in the 2.5 years I attended that school, and now apparently there's another.
**That is, the color guard is made up of band members and other students who want to participate but don't play an instrument. The former switch to their instrument during concert band season, the latter just don't have the class during the school day.

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