The thought of attendance records takes everybody back to their old days at school. It’s a reminder of calling in sick pretending to be your mother and worrying about the homework you’d have to make up. But for Rachel Wright, her son, JJ, and their family, an attendance record means something entirely different.
So when JJ, 10, received a perfect attendance award from his school, Wright sat her son down to explain the situation to him, and then she threw the award out.
“We talked about how all the other children must have felt who missed out because they were sick,” she told TODAY.
She wrote a viral Facebook post explaining her decision. Because for Wright, who is also the mother of Sam, 11, a child with cerebral palsy, awards like these are not just about the fun prize it comes with, but rather the implications.
Not all children can be “lucky” enough to go to school everyday.
When JJ was able to make it to school everyday, Wright chalked that up to luck in her post.
As she wrote, “He’s lucky to have not developed a fever, had an accident or live with a chronic illness.”
The mention of “chronic illness” speaks most directly to Sam and the experience Wright has had caring for him. Children with conditions like these will never be able to receive a perfect attendance record because of a situation entirely out of their hands, not a conscious choice that they’ve made. Wright said this award sends a negative message to those children who can’t help their condition.
“Can you imagine a work place that at the end of each week marked out all the people who hadn’t been sick?” wrote Wright. “Where all the departments with the least number of people off were rewarded – in front of everyone else? It happens in schools all the time.”
She wants to start a discussion about the issue at hand.
The response to her post has been mixed. While many praise her for speaking out about this award system, some also have raised points about needing to encourage attendance through incentives like awards. For Wright, however, all points are welcome.
She told ABC News, “I was trying to spark a conversation about what 100 percent attendance teaches our children about health, values and those who suffer long term conditions.”
In her eyes, these awards value health and fortitude, but for some, these characteristics just aren’t a plausible reality. It’s a concept that many have struggled with, and because of this, Wright believes that she has “touched a nerve.”
“What on earth are we teaching our kids about value and worth?” asked Wright. “What are we teaching them about looking out for each other and looking after the sick or disabled in our community?”
She believes that children shouldn’t be awarded or shamed for attendance based on circumstances beyond their control.
“For all those children who have chronic conditions or are disabled, this award is beyond their reach no matter how dedicated or determined they are,” Wright told TODAY. “I think we can be better than this.”