In Favor of the Sick Day

While many students choose to suffer through the school day when they are sick, the practice does far more harm than good.


photo by Magdalena Laughrey

Since many students are used to working themselves to the bone, taking a sick day may be deemed as unnecessary, but this couldn't be further from the truth.

When junior Oliver Rinehart walked into school a few weeks ago, he appeared exhausted and miserable. As he sat down at his usual booth in the cafeteria, he admitted, in between coughs, that he had a high fever and was running on no sleep.

As his friends not so slyly backed away, one of the more horrified ones asked, “Why are you even here?”

“I have a physics test,” Rinehart replied, as if it was the most natural explanation in the world.

It’s that time of year again. Coughs and sneezes fill each and every classroom. Tissues are in scarce supply. Cough drops are a rare commodity.

In other words, everyone is sick.

It’s a perennial occurrence. Throughout the winter months, stomach bugs, strains of the flu, and countless viruses ravage through the country’s school system.

It’s certainly frustrating, and in many ways, terrifying. At any moment in time, there’s a chance you can catch something that has the potential to ruin your plans for the next few days or even weeks. No one has the time to stay home sick and miss out on class time and tests.

This fear of falling behind, however, is exactly what’s hurting us all in the long run. Students who have anything from a small cough to the full-blown flu are coming to school, all in an effort to keep their work loads manageable and their GPAs high.

We need to get over the idea that going to school, work, or any activity when you’re sick makes you hardworking and admirable.”

So, on behalf of all the students and teachers here who are sick of being surrounded by germs, I’m going to make a plea: Stop coming to school if you’re sick.

We need to get over the idea that going to school, work, or any activity when you’re sick makes you hardworking and admirable. Sure, it takes strength and a lot of mental determination, but the fact is, when you’re sick, you’re less productive, less focused, and, perhaps worst of all, contagious.

North Allegheny policy dictates that a student shouldn’t come to school within twenty-four hours of having a fever or vomiting. NASH school nurse Mrs. Scrabis stressed that coming to school in spite of these guidelines can only make matters worse. 

“Nobody wants your germs,” she said. “We have a couple of different things going around, and when your immune system is down, you can get something else on top of it. I’ve seen that a lot.”

So, refusing to take one day off can lead to even more absences. Additionally, studies show that proper rest can actually shorten the duration of your illness. So, staying home is clearly a smarter decision in the long run. 

But if you’re still worried about making up some assessments or tests, Mrs. Scrabis can help with that, too.

“Let me be your advocate,” she said. “How well are you going to do on that test if you’re sick? I have called teachers before and said, ‘This person is sick, and they only came to school for your test. Can you figure out a time when they can make it up?’ I have never had a teacher say no.”

The bottom line is that you can always sort out all of the school work later. Your health should come first.

That’s a hard concept to accept because, often, any kind of rest that could be possibly viewed as unnecessary is accompanied by a feeling of guilt. We’re so used to the pressure — so used to working ourselves to the point of total exhaustion– that taking a day off feels wrong. 

Just last week, when I was feeling sick and miserable in the middle of the night, I planned on going to school the next day. I didn’t really have any good reason to — it just felt like I should. The thought of staying home made me feel anxious and lazy. Eventually, my mom convinced me to not go.

As crazy as that may seem, it’s likely a consequence of the mindset my peers and I have been trained to adopt. Our whole lives, our schools and our parents have drilled the idea of perfect attendance into our heads. In fact, an astonishing seven in ten parents admit to sending their young child to school despite knowing he or she was sick.

In middle school, I recall that students who never missed a day of school were granted prizes. And at NASH, the student body was warned just how seemingly devastating a few absences could be to their GPAs. 

We’re so used to the pressure — so used to working ourselves to the point of total exhaustion — that taking a day off feels wrong. ”

I’m not saying that attendance isn’t important, because, obviously, it is. So much of our education revolves around physically being here, paying attention, and sticking to a routine that promotes stability. However, if a student’s personal well-being and health are being sacrificed in order to come to school, it becomes a problem. That’s when we need to start shifting our priorities.

You don’t need any kind of special permission to stay home a day. It doesn’t make you an inadequate student, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It simply means that you chose to take care of yourself — and those around you. 

Besides, with the implementation of Blackboard at NA four years ago, the majority of school work can be accessed online. It’s easier than ever to stay on top of things from the comfort, and isolation, of your couch. 

So, if you find yourself ill in the coming weeks, make a cup of tea, drink some orange juice, and turn on Netflix. You’ll be doing us all — and yourself– a favor.

As for Rinehart, he went home right after third period that day and never made it to his physics test. He spent the rest of the week at home, battling a relentless 101 degree fever.