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Cold weather, heavy flu season lead to absences

Art by Albert Jung

With the highest hospitalization rates in over a decade, this year’s flu season could be one of the worst on record. Forty-four states already have more infections than in the week before, and the Centers for Disease Control said 3-11% of the population will be infected this year. On top of that, COVID-19 infection rates are increasing week to week.

However, as exams and end-of-semester deadlines approach, some students are risking the spread of the virus to attend classes to stay on top of their work.

Intro to Analysis & Calculus teacher Zachary Barnes said students should not come to school when experiencing symptoms.

“I think we at Paly sometimes forget that we have an obligation to keep each other well,” Barnes said. “If students are sick, they should stay home because I can’t tell if it’s their allergies or not, and I don’t usually see it as ethical to point at someone and tell them they should go home.”

Barnes said students should care for themselves and other students by utilizing online resources at home when sick.

“We provide all the work on Schoology and granted, being at home, you’re not going to learn as well as being in school, but you can still catch up,” Barnes said. “It’s a selfish thought to come to school knowingly sick when they should be protecting themselves and others.”

For senior Jennifer Mori, deciding whether or not to come to school when she is sick depends on the severity of the illness.

“If you know that you’re actively sick and contagious with the flu, you should definitely stay home,” Mori said. “But if it’s not very harmful and you wear a mask, it can be OK.”

Mori said missing school and needing to catch up on work while other classes are still progressing motivates her to avoid skipping classes.

“In general, emailing teachers to get caught up on all that work takes a lot of effort and time that otherwise could have been avoided by simply going to school,” she said.

Though online learning is an option for sick students, Mori said many students are less inclined to finish assignments without help from teachers.

“Even if it’s online resources, you don’t get the same kind of support from teachers and other students that you would get learning in class,” Mori said. “To be honest, there are many teachers that only (post) assignments on Schoology without proper context and lessons for students to work with if they were not in class for it.”

Junior Morris Tang said academic pressure also drives students to sacrifice their health and the safety of others to come to school sick.

“It is a Paly tradition here; people don’t want to be behind, and even if they are a little sick, they don’t care about it as much,” Tang said. “It isn’t their main priority. They (want) to be present at school whenever they can to get the materials they need to avoid any chance of flunking a test or not understanding a lecture.”

AP English Language and Composition teacher Katie Elder said especially as the flu season intensifies and the pandemic lingers, there is a need for teachers to ensure students have the materials they need to work online productively.

“It’s flu season, so absences will still go up, and it’s becoming more important than ever to make sure that students can access better materials and instructions from home, especially with COVID still being around,” Elder said.

For students like Mori, reducing the competitive environment, particularly rigorous courses could influence students to become more flexible with how they value their physical health over their classes.

“I would feel more comfortable staying at home and missing school if I got sick again, especially if my harder AP classes were not as tough,” Mori said. “The cost is pretty high to make up assignments, learn content and do the activities on your own.”

Elder said regardless of the stresses students feel to maintain high grades, she hopes everyone prioritizes their health above all.

“We, the staff, the teachers and everybody should be doing everything they can to promote being safe, because health is, or at least should be, the top priority for everyone,” Elder said. “For students, we can always get you caught up on schoolwork, but we can’t help you get better.”

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