Early in the morning on a Thursday in late September, I rolled my eyes as yet another kid sneezed on one of my first graders. Each day, as we trudge through the tiled hallways, runny noses and uncovered coughs greet us. Normally, I think nothing of it. Another virus, another weekend with my kids sniffling and miserable. (They always get sick on the weekends. I assume it’s because they hate fun.)
But this day, an e-mail from one of my children’s teachers caught my eye. “We’ve had four cases of strep throat in our class in the last week. If your child complains of a sore throat, please take precaution and make sure they don’t have strep throat before sending them back to school. Hopefully we can stop it before it reaches everyone in the class!”
My first reaction was why are people sending their children to school with strep throat? I understand the occasional parental misdiagnosis, or symptoms developing after drop-off, but four times in a week? Why are parents sending their children to school sick? Does it stem from the school policies for absenteeism?
The majority of the issue, though, stems not from school sick leave policies, but work leave policies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that two out of five American workers do not get paid sick leave in the private sector, meaning they have to choose between their health or their paychecks. Those who do get scheduled time off for unexpected illness are still expected to come to work when their children are sick, meaning they have to find emergency child care, which is not an easy task when asking someone to watch a sick child last minute.