The Stressful Case of the School Absences

Danita LaShelle Jones avatar

by Danita LaShelle Jones |

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I sat in my idle car and drummed my thumbs on the steering wheel. Another glance at the clock revealed that it was 10:57 a.m. I had three minutes left before it counted as a full day. Part of me hoped that I wouldn’t be noticed by a security guard or administrator because I’d have much explaining to do.

“Oh, why am I staring at the school building from my running car? I’m just waiting to check my daughter out — again. Why haven’t I gone in yet? Well, … .” Just the thought of the conversation with a school official gave me anxiety.

The answer felt like an excuse. School policy allotted seven excused absences a year that weren’t “adequately explained.” I cringed at the memory of all the reasons we had written, most of which included the phrase, “She was ill.”

I breathed in relief as the clock shifted to the desired hour. Finally, I had reached the legal time Ladybug wouldn’t be counted absent for the day. But unlike most parents who would rush in as soon as they got the phone call, I chose to wait in the car. Why? Because we were at absence number seven, and I felt I had no choice.

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This had become the burden of a new normal for our family.

As a mother of four, I was an expert in sore throats, viciously contagious stomach viruses, and the annual bout with the flu. As a result, our children would miss about four days of school. So no, they weren’t winning perfect attendance awards, but this was typical.

However, by the time our oldest daughter, Ladybug (a nickname since birth), had reached the third grade, we weren’t experiencing “normal illnesses” and average absences. The average doctor’s visit would result in shrugged shoulders and no diagnosis.

By the second semester, I had to plan my day around the predictable phone call I would receive from the school nurse.

“Ms. Jones, I’m so sorry, but —.” “Ms. Jones, you know I wouldn’t call you if she wasn’t —.” “You said to call back if she got worse, and —.” These were the most common phrases I heard during my week.

By fall 2019, our attempts to stay under seven absences were obliterated by multiple five-day hospital stays. Ladybug had reached an unprecedented 40 absences by the end of the second nine weeks. Ironically, the unexpected global shutdown of 2020 saved us. Without it, she would have amassed 100 absences during a 180-day school year.

Hereditary angioedema wasn’t a welcome diagnosis, but it explained so much. Now her anxiety, painful bellyaches, and facial and hand swells had an excuse; she had a chronic illness. But the idea of writing essay-worthy school notes, still seeming to give improper explanations, terrified me. Would she even be able to attend school?

I shyly mentioned to Ladybug’s immunologist the idea of going through another year of absences and written excuses, some of which might be deemed improper. I was sure that he would tell us that she was sick too much, that I needed to be better about keeping her in school, or reprimand me for giving in to her “not feeling good.” The complete opposite happened.

Over the next 15 minutes, the doctor explained a 504 plan (designed to help disabled students have equity with nondisabled students) and what it meant for Ladybug’s attendance and education. He also had us speak with someone on his team who could set up the plan for us through the school system. Additionally, the Hereditary Angioedema Association sent us a packet to give to the school nurse and all of her teachers.

After years of waiting until 11 a.m., dreading truancy notices or school reprimands, I learned that a simple paper signed by her doctor could alleviate the stress I’d been harboring for so long.

We tend to normalize our stressors and worry for our chronically ill, school-age children, hiding what we think people will see as inadequate care. However, it’s important to remember that resources are available to ease some of the burdens we carry on our shoulders every day.


Note: Angioedema News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Angioedema News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to angioedema.

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