With flu threat, schools rethink perfect attendance awards

Attaining a perfect attendance award in school traditionally has been a much-coveted feat, but this year schools don't necessarily want students to be so devoted.

The lure of prizes or medals can be so strong that some students come to school even when they are sick, but with swine flu swirling, school districts around the country want to make sure sick youngsters stay home.

The Basehor-Linwood School District in Leavenworth County is considering suspending its perfect attendance award in favor of "outstanding attendance" awards to students who miss three or fewer days due to illness. It is the district's way of trying to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus.

"We have a lot of ambitious students who strive to receive perfect attendance, and we want to encourage those kids to stay home when sick," said David Howard, Basehor-Linwood district superintendent. "Our goal is to keep everyone — students and teachers — healthy at school this year."

Some schools offer perfect attendance incentives ranging from certificates, medals, parties or even skipping exams. Basehor-Linwood students who record perfect attendance for the school year receive certificates and two free Royals tickets. The district hopes to have an official change in policy within the next month.

The Kansas City, Kan., School District also is encouraging a change to its perfect attendance recognition. Awards are given by individual schools, so the district sent out a letter to each principal suggesting changes.

"The district doesn't want schools to inadvertently persuade kids to attend school when they are sick," said David A. Smith, district spokesman. “But it's really up to each school on whether or not they want to make a change."

The actions mirror changes some districts nationwide have already made.

The Braintree School District in Massachusetts and the Secaucus School District in New Jersey have suspended their perfect attendance awards as a precaution against swine flu.

The Hillsborough County School District in Tampa, Fla., also has done away with a program that rewarded students for perfect attendance. Kids with perfect attendance records used to be able to skip half of their semester exams, but the program was suspended Aug. 11.

"Last year we had students with swine flu coming to school anyway because they were eager to be exempt from exams," said Linda Cobbe, district spokeswoman. "We quickly realized we needed to do something about it. For the best interest of the students and teachers, we wanted to make sure students stayed at home when they were sick."

So far, the district has not seen a huge increase in absences.