Cororna virus fear across US schools while parents and advocates shows concerns on school attendance policy

City schools officials urged parents Monday to keep their kids at home if they’re feeling sick after New York confirmed its first coronavirus case, but some parents argue an Education Department attendance policy sends the opposite message.

Under the policy, middle and high schools may consider attendance records when making admissions decisions and fourth and seventh-grade attendance records can be a factor in getting into the city’s most selective public schools.

Some parents and advocates have long railed against the policy, arguing it punishes kids for things often outside their control and excessively harms low-income, homeless and vulnerable families.

Worse, the policy essentially encourages parents to bring children who may be sick to school on days when they might otherwise be kept home.

If you are sick on any given day, you and your family are faced with this decision about whether to go to school sick or risk losing points on your attendance scores, said City Council Member Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), who recently wrote to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza asking for changes to the policy.

This issue right now only highlights that even more, he added.

Absences can be excused for medical reasons with a doctor’s note, but those distinctions aren’t communicated to schools making admissions decisions, parents say. Some schools begin marking students down after just a handful of absences, Powers added.

At a press conference Monday, Carranza said, We want to emphasize if a child is sick, do not worry about admissions and all of those things. If the child is sick, stay home and get some attention.

Mayor de Blasio added that officials will consider how to handle attendance concerns after they deal with more immediate issues.

Right now, how we would address school attendance issues and admissions and all, that’s over the horizon and we’re not there yet, de Blasio said.

Yet for some parents, the coronavirus fears only highlight their long standing concerns about the attendance policy.

You don’t need a global pandemic to know that sending kids to school sick is not a good approach, said Robin Broshi, a parent in Manhattan’s District 2. Broshi said she’s seen parents take kids to school for an hour so they’ll be marked present, before sending them back home.

Recently released guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for schools responding to coronavirus fears discourages the use of perfect attendance awards and incentives. City schools officials cautioned there’s no evidence of community transmission of the corona virus in New York, and advised kids to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, get a flu shot and stay home if they are sick.

With the fear parents have right now, Powers said, we should at least have an emergency protocol in place to allow parents to keep students home if there’s fear. But ultimately, the whole policy should be re-examined, he urged.

Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Filson said, We’ve been clear that if a child is sick they should stay home from school. Right now, our primary focus is health and safety, and any issues related to attendance will be addressed.


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