BY RICHARD SKOLNIK
The present LAPS “attendance campaign” may be doing more harm than good and should be terminated immediately. This “campaign” includes giving awards to students for outstanding attendance and giving awards to classrooms with the best attendance. Such efforts are not evidence-based; they risk shaming the large number of students who have missed a significant number of school days this year because of illness; and, they lead to the bullying of students who, by getting sick and correctly not going to school, “cause their class” to miss winning an attendance award.
Mathematical models and real-life data make clear that children’s staying home from school when sick is essential. To its credit, the LAPS has indicated that it wants families to keep children home when they have a fever or certain other indications of illness. However, the “attendance campaign,” the letters many families have received about their children’s absences, the inconsistent approach to “excusing absences” across the district, and the apparent conduct of
some school staff have caused an important part of the school community to believe that the LAPS wants them to send their children to school, “above all else.”
Sadly, we have no reliable data on the number of cases in Los Alamos of important viral illnesses, including COVID, influenza, norovirus, or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). However, even a cursory canvassing of medical offices and families suggests that the overwhelming majority of absences from school this year have been related to high rates of transmission in the community of a range of viral illnesses.
Yet, LAPS’ current approach to incentives for attendance will do nothing to help reduce the transmission of illness in schools. Rather, the current approach to incentives for attendance may actually increase the spread of illness by encouraging sick children to attend school. Thus, one might end up with more sick children staying home than would otherwise be the case.
In this light, it would be interesting to know if LAPS has designed the incentive schemes around valid data on the causes of absences. It would also be good to know if the LAPS has a clear goal for its “attendance campaign” and has set up an evaluation of its incentive programs to know if they achieve their desired results.
Even at this late stage of the school year, attendance-based incentive programs risk causing more harm than good. There is no excuse for continuing misguided and potentially harmful policies in any arena, especially in our schools. The present incentive-based LAPS approach to attendance urgently needs to be flipped on its head. Perhaps the same energy and resources could be put into a campaign for promoting the health of our children next year and helping students with many absences prevent and deal with their learning losses.