Why Metea’s late policy needs to change

Districtwide, high school students are dealing with a number of things in their lives, many of which they are unable to control. However, in many cases, the school system apparently seems to prioritize attendance over positive mental health, and many a time fails to consider that students must sacrifice their learning opportunities to tend to things at home or outside of school. Or simply that students can not always anticipate not making it to school on time when circumstances arise, such as car trouble. Students are commonly met with unhelpful consequences and discipline upon arriving late to school, when instead the district should be striving to resolve the issues at hand and provide appropriate assistance to that student as necessary, deciding only to reprimand him or her if the excuse is unreasonable.  

According to District 204 policy, “unexcused absences include, but are not limited to, oversleeping, working, missing the bus, car trouble, shopping, traffic, alarm clock problems, etc. After 48 hours, an unresolved absence becomes classified as unexcused.” Some of the few are more than acceptable; a student should ordinarily save leisure activities for outside school hours. On the other hand, many students at Metea have claimed to have undergone punishments for encountering some of the issues outlined, and are confused as to how lunch detentions would aid in dismantling this common problem.

Upon arriving to school one morning last semester in my mom’s car, the ignition suddenly stopped giving and the vehicle stopped at the intersection located in a stream of traffic. While we only live three minutes away from the school without traffic, we left around 20 minutes before the first school bell would ring- given that the 7:00 to 7:20 time slot is like rush hour for high school students. Yet, in that period of time, we were unable to jump the car and instead focused on manually relocating it to avoid an otherwise unsafe situation. Eventually, we realized that reviving the car was hopeless, and my mom called my brother and me in to formally excuse our being late to school. But when my brother and I walked into my class house, we were immediately told to fill out a lunch detention check-in form. Although I explained that my guardian had called us in as well as providing a good reason, I was informed that “car troubles are not excused,” as school drop-offs and driving one’s own car to school are optional, and the bus is always readily available.

Lunch detentions are not recorded on one’s school transcript, but I admit I was still upset about the situation. I was displeased at the fact that I had to take time out of my lunch period to sit in a classroom idle, when firstly, it would have been unproductive, and secondly, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be learning from the experience. I didn’t feel that I had done anything wrong, and I couldn’t have anticipated the car not functioning, otherwise, I would have taken the bus, except it had already arrived at 6:40 a.m. I was able to get out of the lunch detention once my mom called again to explain, but it was excessive for her to have called in twice when she had already done so.

In some cases, students try their hardest to make it to school even when things at home are not the most ideal, but they still end up arriving late. I have been called in for late arrival before and come to witness some explaining that their mornings were very difficult for them, or their parents were not there to drive them to school as usual at the last minute. Sophomore year, I remember arriving late once because the night before, I had a family situation that left me at a family friend’s house until I was able to go back in the middle of the night once things were settled. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but I knew trying to make it to school was best, because I wouldn’t be missing material that I would otherwise be required to catch up on my own time. Still upset about the situation, I was dropped off late because everyone had slept in after a late night of chaos, and they sent me up to the class house again. In the midst of telling me they were going to give me a lunch detention, I became visibly upset and started tearing up- not about the detention, but that I had just dealt with something difficult and now had to deal with even more. Once the woman at the front desk noticed, she asked if I was okay and sent me to the social worker to talk during first period. As grateful as I was to have their support, I know if I had not been obvious about my emotions, I might have been reprimanded when I was only trying my best to be at school instead of missing entirely, but couldn’t do it all right. I know that the majority of other students probably wouldn’t have reacted so vulnerably like I did, had they suffered a similar situation at home, and they would have been met with disciplinary action.

Other situations can be less complicated, such as having a bus arrive late that wasn’t registered, and still receive a lunch detention. Junior Avyay Surampalli explains, “I was waiting for my bus to pick me up last year, but it came really late because it broke down and another one had to be sent in its place. I got to school late, and I was given a lunch detention for a tardy because my bus didn’t report coming late. I would have explained but I had a quiz first period and needed to get to class, but I just wish I had a warning because it was only my first time.” A number of students have reported receiving similar consequences for their bus failing to arrive on time, and had to make up for lost time when they couldn’t use their lunch periods for a better purpose. “I ended up serving the detention. I get that it’s a warning for discipline, but I felt it was unnecessary,” Surampalli said.

A handful of students also claim that during the passing period time before the first bell, they’ve finished parking their cars only to find that the doors leading outside the building available for earlier use are locked. While many have classes close to those doors, they would have been set to be on time had they been able to use entrances that were then closed. Apparently, such doors are locked between around 7:22 to 7:23 a.m., leaving students only two minutes to walk around the building to the next open door or main entrance while still making it to class at an appropriate time. While they would have arrived close to the bell, students have the liberty of doing so, so long as they set foot in the classroom by 7:25 a.m. With classes such as P.E., it’s only important that students be dressed before gym doors are locked and attendance can be taken with them present. Overall, teachers and students should have a mutual understanding of that student’s attendance patterns before any unnecessary steps are taken.

Understandably so, Metea staff must enforce students being in compliance with federal law regarding school attendance. Late arrival cuts into those mandatory hours, and they want to ensure that parents don’t get into trouble when their child doesn’t meet those requirements. However, occasional instances of tardiness should be examined more thoroughly that a well-meaning student without excessive tardies might not have to spend amounts of time in detention for a variety of reasons that the school may be unwary of or fail to address. Late policy must change for the benefit of the students and their overall educational experience.