The extreme consequences of tardiness: the story of the Late Student

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You’re a tired teenager, and you can’t seem to actually get out of bed when your alarm begins to blare. So you hit the “off” button, fully intending to leave the warm pocket of your sheets for the cold, harsh world, but instead accidentally doze for an extra 15 minutes. Then some call from a parent downstairs drifts faintly into your room; your eyes open lazily and drift to the clock, and … YOU NEED TO BE OUT OF THE HOUSE IN FIVE MINUTES.

At this point, it is pretty much impossible to get to first period on time. Panicked and rushed, you fly through your usual morning routine. Throw on some semblance of an outfit—jeans, T-shirt, North Face—and hope your friends won’t notice your unkempt appearance; grab a yogurt from the fridge, to be eaten hastily during the ride to school; find a pair of slip-on shoes—quickly!—or else leave the laces untied, and pray you don’t fall over as you dash to your mom’s car.

7:51 a.m.: you arrive at the front circle, and speed-walk to the main entrance of PHS (because running is overrated), hyperconscious of the fact that there’s only one other kid heading in at the same time as you. He’s looking a little frazzled.

When the Late Student arrives in the morning, she has two options: head to the attendance office and accept her tardiness as fact, or slink into first period, making eye contact with no one and plopping down in her seat as if she has gone through some traumatic ordeal that she’d rather not discuss.

At Princeton High, either of these options should result in one attendance point. However, the latter option is almost always optimal.

Last week, I came to school a whopping five minutes late: the latest I have been in my memory. Ignorant of the wisest protocol under such a situation, I decided to make a visit to the attendance office. My mistake.

There, I waited in line for a few minutes, stuck behind the kids who were unfortunately less tardy than I. They shuffled around in their backpacks, searching for deep-buried wallets, and after some fumbling yanked out their school IDs to pass through the scanner. Finally, it was my turn to talk to the teacher at the desk.

“Do you have your school ID?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Do you have a parent note?”

I shook my head, told her my name, and asked what the purpose of a parent note is. Those with such a note, she told me, are labeled as “Tardy Verified,” yet still receive an attendance point, and those with no note are classified as “Tardy Unverified.” So, in both scenarios, I am docked for my want of punctuality. I asked what the benefit is, then, in having a note versus not having one, and she explained that those with many unverified tardies will eventually speak with an administrator about the cause of their absences. But if you rack up a lot of verified tardies, wouldn’t the same conversation take place?

So I head to math class, several minutes later than I would have been had I gone directly there. I hand my paper slip to my teacher, who then proceeds to tell me that on PowerTeacher, there’s no way for him to mark me as “Tardy Unverified”: the option DNE. (That’s “does not exist,” for the non-math-nerds.) He lists me as “Tardy Unexcused,” which is exactly how I would have been marked five minutes ago had I bypassed the attendance office. Thus my little detour was pointless.

The kicker is that a classmate of mine then raises his hand, and asks loudly to go to the bathroom. He saunters off, only to return 15 minutes later after doing who knows what? While he misses 15 minutes of class, I missed five, yet I’m the one with the attendance point. Who learned more that day? Certainly not he.

Moreover, missing the first few minutes of class gets you one point, while missing an entire 45-minute period docks you only three. Our attendance system should be based not on the fact that we come to class two minutes late now and again, but rather on our choice to stay in class (or maybe not) during the time we’re supposed to be there.