The dilemma of ditching


Helen Chao

She was dead serious.
Her son would be absent the entire day — for a haircut.

Attendance technician Joe Roan chuckled a little bit after hearing her voice message. He let the matter slide, thinking of the approaching dance that might have urgently required the haircut.

Attendance tehnician Joe Roan completes work on his computer. Roan is responsible for marking tardies and absences in the school’s attendance system. Photo by Chelsea Wong.

To this day, it’s the most peculiar phone call he has received, as it is typically parents calling to inform him their kids are sick and unable to attend school. He acknowledges that it’s certainly possible the student isn’t ill and simply running late, yet Roan generally takes what parents say at face value. After all, he considers, it’s their right.

“I mean look, you ditched. That’s your prerogative,” Roan said. “But you know you have to go to class [and] you know you got to get your grades up.”

Occasionally, late students will arrive at school, sitting through beginning periods, and simply leave campus for the rest of day. They’ll approach Roan and hurriedly grab a late pass, and he’ll mark them as tardy in the computer system — only for him to receive an email from a confused teacher telling him the student never attended class. Roan will then accordingly correct the tardy to an absence instead.

“If you ditch a [class] here and there and you’re getting As, then I really don’t care to be honest with you,” Roan said. “Now your teachers might care, so, that’s something to keep in count.”

However, high school absences are strictly monitored and the consequences quite severe. A letter is promptly sent home to notify the guardian or parent after a student misses school for three days. If they miss yet another two days, a student receives a second letter and a scheduled conference between the administration, their parents and themselves. Two more uncleared absences results in a third truancy and subsequent meeting with the district attorney.

Graphic by Helen Chao.

With a strict dad in the military, Roan never ditched class in high school. On Senior Skip Day, Roan opted to cut class midway and headed straight back home to the comforts of sleep — his friends, on the other hand, were out and about at the beach. His dad was evidently a little irritated.

[After] I cut out early,” Roan said, “and my dad looked at me and said, ‘You’re an idiot and just went away.’”

Nowadays, while Roan considers ditching consequential if one begins to fail their classes, he believes it is the student’s prerogative to cut class. Everything has consequences, he says, and if one is okay with the consequences, they have the free will to as they wish. In the future, college professors won’t even bat an eye if a student is missing.

“If you’re not in school and you’re passing all your classes just because you’re a genius,” Roan said, “then, hey, more power to you.”