POWAY, Calif., (KGTV)— Some Poway Unified parents are saying they are being harassed by school officials for keeping their sick children at home. Many say the absence policy is confusing, and they feel they are being guilted into getting their children back in class.
10News met father, Douglas Dickey. He showed us a note from Kaiser Permanente, excusing his ill 12-year-old son Ryan from school.
Instead of a confirmation, he got a voicemail from Meadowbrook Middle School, offering the family assistance to improve Ryan’s attendance.
School staff told Dickey this was Ryan's twelfth absence of the school year. Dickey said this was particularly an unlucky year, where Ryan got cold after cold, a broken collar bone, then Cat Scratch Disease.
“What do you do? If your kid’s sick, he’s sick,” Dickey said.
Dickey said they should all be considered excused absences, not truancy. But he said he got calls and letters. He even said the school suggested a visit from a social worker. He asked a neighborhood social media group if any other parents were enduring experiences.
In less than two days, he received dozens of replies.
“It seems to be quite common for parents with children that are ill, receiving letters and phone calls, threatening legal action if their students don’t become less absent,” Dickey said.
According to the California Education Code, public school staff must contact parents of kids who are “chronically absent.” In Poway Unified, that means 12 missed days in a school year, excused or unexcused.
The district spokesman said, for unexcused students, it can escalate to law enforcement arresting students or finding parents guilty of an infraction. But she said it rarely gets to that point. For validly excused absences, it is dealt on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s almost a form of bullying. I don’t like to use that word, but they’re pressuring you,” Dickey said. “It’s a money issue.”
The District said it is in the students’ best interest to stay in school. But they also said they get state funding via average daily attendance: about $50 a day per student. So being present also benefits the school.
Now the Dickey’s are caught in a Catch 22: Keep Ryan at home and risk another phone call, or send him to school and risk getting other children ill.
“I would like to see the school district stand up to the parents. We’re the taxpayers. They need to fight and go against the state and get their money back,” Dickey said.
The District said they have also resolved several situations where letters were sent out accidentally.