Saturday, September 28, 2013

Never Mind That He's Sick: The Marlowe Family's Story

Christopher Marlowe lives in Butte, Nebraska where his son attends West Boyd Public Schools.

My kids' mom and I are divorced and live different lives and in different parts of the state.  We are still friends and cooperate well for child rearing.  Our daughter lives with her and our son lives with me.   Our daughter has a few sick days every year but not enough to be a problem.  Our poor son has pushed the limit or been over ever since entering public school.

My son entered public school in the third grade when his mother moved to the city.  He had previously been home schooled.  He was with her at the time.  He came to live with me here on the farm at the start of his freshman year .  He is now a junior.  The farm is definitely more his environment than the city was.

The school here has, for the most part, been a positive experience.  The increasingly strict truancy laws have created the most stress in our lives. That was true both when he lived with his mother and here as well.  The poor kid catches every bug that comes along.  He gets plenty of sleep and eats a well balanced diet.  Much of the food is raised right here on the farm  and during the growing season, vegetables are often freshly picked just before meal time. He works hard with me on non-school days but I usually let him sleep as much as he needs to.  Friday and Saturday nights, unless there is a football game, he's with dad.  So, I'm confident that nutrition and sleep are adequate.

To complicate the matter, school has typically come hard for my son and that has made it stressful.  Stress in turn fuels illness.  (Periods of high stress actually cause the immune system to shut down making the body wide open to infection.)  To complicate things even further, as I've previously mentioned,  we live on a farm out in the country and the country roads aren't always open as fast as the highways are.  So, school may be in session but we physically can't get there.  I've been snowed in a week at a time a few times throughout the years. Without power a couple of those and without phone or internet a couple of times as well.  We heat with a wood cook stove so we stay warm and well fed with or without power.

Our school's policy is 8 days per semester instead of the state's 10.  Best I can tell that's to discourage kids and parents from missing and leave some cushion room.  They also seem to like to provide ample verbal reminders of the "need to be in school."  They come across as hard and insensitive, but having read the law in full, I think it is their way of trying to keep kids from hitting that 10 day mark.

Virtually every time I call him in sick, the secretary reminds me that he needs to be in school. As if we didn't know that, and for that matter, I need to be at work, not home taking care of a sick kid!  If he misses a second day, and definitely by a third day, they are pushing for a doctor's visit and note.  Freshman year he had a bit of flu and I had to take him in for the doctor's note.  The doctor prescribed something and I'm sure that helped but he would have recovered on his own too.  We pushed the maximum number of sick days each semester last year.  When my son gets sick he is sick.  He's running high fevers and sleeping.    As I mentioned, most every time I called him in I got a reminder that "he needs to be in school."  Never mind that he's sick.

Last spring, his mother and I discussed withdrawing and homeschooling him to both break the illness cycle and to better tailor a curriculum to his learning needs.  Our son then made the decision that he wanted to play football so we passed on the homeschooling for the time. The school year no sooner started and he got sick with something or another.  Second week of school he missed that Friday. He perked up some over the weekend and went to school on Monday. The temperature got up to 100' on Monday and the school had football practice in that heat. He came home really sick from it.  I had to keep him home from school on Tuesday.  The secretary of course told me, "He needs to be getting over that.  Maybe you should take him to the doctor."  I told her in no uncertain terms that "he perked up over the weekend and got really sick practicing in that 100' heat yesterday."  The only reply was, "Hopefully he gets to feeling better."

Wednesday he went to school.  Drug through the whole day.  Thursday he collapsed and I had to keep him home.  Friday he drug through school.  It was Memorial Day weekend.  He perked up Saturday morning and did good until about 4:00 Sunday afternoon.  It just hit.  He ran a 102-105' fever for the next 36 hours. He slept most of that time.  Monday night it seemed to be getting worse and I was getting kind of scared.  I stayed up with him until 3:00 in the morning, forcing him to drink fluids and keeping an ice pack on him. About 3:00 the fever finally broke and I went to bed myself.

Tuesday, I called and told the school I would take him to the doctor.   The doctor said it looked like Bronchial Pneumonia but was hard to know for sure as there were several bugs/viruses going around with similar symptoms. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic and a couple of other things, and school and football practice as tolerated.  My son slept the rest of the day and the rest of the week too.  The doctor's note prescribing "school as tolerated" was not sufficient for the school.  My son returned to school on the following Monday but only made it three periods. The school nurse called me that day and flagged me down when  I picked my son up. Both times she commented "that 'walking' pneumonia should only take a couple of days to get over. You might want to get him back to the doctor to see if something else is going on."   I tried to pin her down on what she needed for documentation but only got ambiguous answers and a repeat of "getting him to the doctor again."

So, Tuesday morning we took the drive down to Lynch again to see the doctor.  The doctor wasn't able to do anything for my son but he did order up chest xrays and a full battery of blood work.  He also provided a detailed note and prescribed half days for the next week until we could meet for a follow up appointment.  He added to the note that it would take more than a few days to recover from.  The school was pleased with the documentation; they did, however, want him in school longer.  I had a brief meeting with the principal and superintendent and told them that we could try 3/4 days instead as long as whoever was working with him kept a close eye on him and called me to pick him up if he seemed to be starting to fade.  They agreed and were very good about it.

The following Wednesday, we had a follow up appointment with the doctor.  My son was much improved.  The blood work had all come back and other than the current illness and a little extra weight showed a very healthy young man.  We never were able to pinpoint the exact illness but the doctor maintained that it was most likely Bronchial Pneumonia brought on by practicing in 100' heat. Basically as I understood it the heat combined with the increased respiration from practice caused his body to ingest a lot of allergens -- causing pneumonia to develop and then his body had in turn to expel all of that.

In fairness to the school, once we established that he was really sick with documentation they were really good about working with him. My son's energy flow during his half days coincided with his core classes.  He was able to go a little longer and the school used that time to first get him caught up in math. The principal herself, a math teacher by trade, rearranged her afternoon duties to personally tutor him and even came in on a Saturday morning as well.  Once math was caught up they then used that time to catch up in English, history and Ag.  He's also in Journalism and Woodshop and in those classes they are simply letting him move forward.  This was his first week of full days. He had yesterday off for conferences. Everybody was really positive and real accommodating.  Still, we had several reminders of how important it is to keep him healthy and in school.  What can you say besides "We'll do our best!"

I do have some reluctance in publishing this.  All of the folks involved are our neighbors and friends.  And, that is part of the reason I have gone ahead and done this writeup of our experience. The current truancy laws in Nebraska place a great deal of stress on the schools as well as us parents and need to be modified to be more accommodating of illness, weather and other days families feel it is necessary for a child to miss a day or two.  It seemed to be lost upon them, but essentially taking a month off of school to care for a sick child is not something every parent can easily do. I was fortunate to be able to do so.  While the farm is an important part of our livelihood, most of my living is generated off farm with a small construction business.  I was very fortunate to have a job going close to the school that I could work on half days.  I more typically  work in O'Neill, which is 50 minutes from home and 35 minutes or so from the school.

As a post note I would encourage every family in Nebraska that can do so to consider home schooling.  Nebraska's home school laws are some of the most accommodating in the country.  It's a fairly simple application that you fill out and send into the state.  The state even notifies the school district for you!  Especially convenient if you have finished a school year and plan to home school in the fall.  Parents worry about not having the time to home school. There are several self paced, self taught curriculums out there. There are even free curriculums available.  I was planning to purchase the Robinson Curriculum which is a self paced curriculum and not very expensive. If one parent is working from home or you are the business owner than it is a definite possibility.

-Christopher Marlowe, Butte Nebraska


  1. I so feel your pain, Christopher, and I so appreciate your sharing your story. Even though I went from being, like you, able to work with the school and hoping for the best to wanting to get the heck out (I did, and now we homeschool) I still relate to your feelings on how stressful it is, how the cycle of illness and stress feed in, and how invasive it feels to have school personnel (even nice ones) basically questioning your parenting.

    I notice that you, as did every parent who had a child that got every bug that came along, felt the urge to state that you take good care of your child, feed him good food, get him exercise and sleep, and so on. This is understandable in the face of a school secretary who suddenly becomes a medical expert and looks over her glasses at anything that keeps a kid out of school. It seems so sad to me, that parents who do a great job like you should have to explain these things, but I recall feeling so defensive when the secretary at our OPS school, Saddlebrook made rude comments to my son about his illnesses, and his teacher suggested that perhaps we should have our house tested for carbon monoxide poisoning.

    It is simply idiotic to think that because a child gets sick, he or she is shirking, not normal, being poisoned, or in some sub-standard atmosphere. What I resented most was the implication that we simply weren't trying hard enough, and that we could somehow control how sick they were. Maybe if we just clicked our heels together and made a wish, we'd be well. If only. Like we wanted to be sick. I regretted every time I sent my kids to school sick, and would've given anything for them to just be well.

    I am also deeply troubled by the school's insistence here, that you keep going to the doctor! If one has a virus, there is absolutely nothing a doctor can do. It a VIRUS! How many times do we have to hear from doctors how every child is antibiotic resistant because they don't simply let the kid rest and get better. Gee... I wonder why?? With schools insisting that you haul the poor guy to the doc just for their documentation? It's insane.

    I want to hear what a real doctor has to say about how all this s affecting overall health, not to mention health costs. If anyone dared to speak out.

    I agree with and champion your suggestion for anyone who can to homeschool. I will be launching a blog on our own homeschooling adventures, simply as a way to document our curricula (which we make on our own) and provide resources to other Nebraska Families. My best to you and your family, Christopher, good luck to you all. ANN Summers

  2. Christopher thanks for sharing your story with us. I encourage you to contact your state senator (LD 40, Senator Tyson Larson, I believe) and express your concerns and how the current excessive absence laws have affected your family. Hopefully by January, we will have 49 Senators gathering in Lincoln with urgency to repeal this abusive law.
    As a public school grad myself and now with my last child in her junior year in a public school I can’t help but feel a loss each time I hear a family intends to home school their child. I admire your courage to do so and believe the experience is everything if not more than what a public education has to offer. However, I can’t help but think that had Senator Ashford chosen to bastardize the laws regarding underwater basket weaving rather than education, we wouldn’t have this exodus of students from public schools.
    Also, I feel for the teachers that now will miss the opportunity to be a part of the experience when a child discovers their brilliance of heart and mind. Perhaps this is a gift best bestowed upon a parent but it is the very essence of why those that teach do so.
    Best to you and your family.
    Vaughn & Teri Crowell