Listen. I do not really believe god created this entire pandemic just to punish ME for chronic truancy. God created this pandemic to punish all of us for a lot of things. But it has become clear to me, through my trials at Zoom University, that one pre-pandemic sin for which I am now paying was my failure to attend class at a legally acceptable rate throughout high school.
I skipped a lot of classes back in the day. I can’t say for sure what my attendance rate was, but it couldn’t have been higher than 75%. It was that low even when I got a reduced schedule for half of junior year (for medical reasons) and all of senior year (for senior reasons). For six of my eight semesters at Woodrow Wilson High School, there was not a single week where I attended every class on my schedule.
It all began in freshman year P.E.
My teacher got fired in the first week of class and we never got a replacement or even a long-term sub, so every day I’d just sign the attendance sheet and leave. This hardly counts as skipping, there was no point in me sitting in the gym for an hour twenty minutes. I supposed I could have passed the time doing homework, like a nerd, but it was my last class of the day, so I just went home, like a rebel.
The issue was not so much that I left school, but how I did it. My high school had tons of security guards and all the doors were alarmed and guarded to prevent students from escaping (yes, the school-to-prison pipeline is real), so I had to be sneaky. I slunk around the basement hallways and found old maintenance doors and forgotten athletic tunnels. I mapped escape routes that, as far as I could tell, no other dedicated ditchers had caught onto yet.
Ditching class is a slippery slope.
If you can get away with missing one class, why not miss another? Hey, we’re just watching a movie today, I’m gonna take a nap in the auditorium. Uh oh, I didn’t finish that history paper, I should just not go to class. Man I’m in a really terrible mood and don’t want to be here at all, let me “go to the bathroom.” With my backpack and coat. You know, in case I get cold.
It didn’t help that I really, really hated school. Elementary and middle school had been difficult for me, but high school was another beast. It was physically painful for me to be in the building. Sometimes I wouldn’t even want to miss class, but I’d feel itchy and trapped, and I just had to get the hell out.
Then, in August of 2017, a beautiful thing happened. I became a student of Kenyon College. And for the first time in my entire life, I liked school! My attendance rate the past three and a half years is probably between 95-98 percent. That includes all three times I’ve gotten the flu, and the week I was knocked out by Vertigo.I am not including Econ, which I never went to and then mulliganed…. But a person can only grow so much in one lifetime.
Now my previous truancy has come back to haunt me.
My time as a student on the grounds of Kenyon ended unceremoniously in February. I was remote this semester, and very sadly, due to health reasons, I will be remote next semester. I want to be in class, but I can’t. This rebel has been brought to her knees.
And fine, I wasn’t really that much of a rebel in high school. I just I had serious mental health issues that made it really really hard for me to be in school. I got a lot of panic attacks and a lot of, like, depression attacks, and when those happened, I couldn’t just sit through class. I fled, either to an empty bathroom or straight out one of my secret exits.
And fine, I wasn’t that sneaky. I avoided suspicion from security guards and administrators because I was a white girl. Black and Hispanic kids were harangued on their way to the bathroom, but if staff saw me in the hallways during class, they assumed I had a good and proper reason.
My privilege let me do so much shit, and I didn’t see that for a long time. Or like, I SAW it, but it didn’t change what I was doing. That’s really why I’m sorry for ditching so much class. I abused my racial privilege, and didn’t do a damn thing to fix the system that allowed me to get away with it.
Junior year, I got so many unexcused absences that my family got a letter summoning me to court. My mom took off work to come meet with my guidance counselor, and most of my absences were retroactively excused with notes from my psychiatrist, my therapist, and my pediatrician explaining how panic attacks and depression had caused me to miss class. That in and of itself was not problematic, I really was battling severe mental illnesses that seriously impeded my ability to function. But I had access to quality health care, my parents were able to come into the school, I was an honors student, and I was white. The school saw in me a good student, a good girl, who was going through a rough time.
But students who have experienced trauma in their homes or their communities may also skip class, have panic attacks, and struggle to stay focused on school. Students who turn to drug use may be having mental health crises as well; certainly if they are experiencing addiction. Only these students, especially at my high school, are more likely to be BIPOC students, from low-income families, and where my mental health struggles, with my official documentation and white parent advocacy, was met with academic support, health crises of students of color are met with suspicion and punishment.
I should step down from my soapbox now. This article was supposed to be funny. In writing it, I realized it’s not funny at all. I skipped a lot of class in high school. I had my reasons. And now that I truly love my school so much, I have to spend my last year and a quarter of it online. But I know I only got through high school and into Kenyon because of my immensely privileged place in the world.
So, yeah. God is punishing all of us for a lot of things.