Confusion behind COVID absence protocol causes rise in unexcused absences


Angelina Ruckman

BVH Attendance Coordinator Antonio Gutierrez explains the process students must abide by when they get in close contact to a peer who has COVID. He expresses that this year marks a significant increase in the distribution of Independent Study contracts.

Alexa Vazquez and Yealin Lee

“It’s not the students’ fault if they have to miss school because they tested positive for COVID-19 or came into close contact with the virus. We [administration] do not want to penalize their attendance in any way. [Independent Study] was meant as a [way to] support [students], not as a directive to hurt them,” Attendance Coordinator Antonio Gutierrez said, in response to the notable number of students who return to school from their short term quarantine to find their attendance record marked down.  

Absent, Unexcused. 

With 49 officially documented cases of students who have tested positive for COVID-19, and more who have come into close contact with the virus, the Bonita Vista High (BVH) student body experiences the effects of distance learning even after its conclusion. For many, schoolwork is still being completed and submitted at home. Upon the return to in-person instruction, approximately 20 percent of the student body have missed school due to close contact with or testing positive for COVID-19, according to a poll done by the Crusader

Students who test positive for COVID-19, or who come into close contact and choose to forgo COVID testing, are asked to quarantine for a 10 to 15 day period. Students are asked to sign up for the Short Term Independent Study program to support their academic pursuits during their time away from school. A statewide and district implemented program, Independent Study allows students to complete work for their classes during quarantine and marks them as present upon receiving proof of five assignments that were completed in that time. With the rise in COVID related absences, the need for Independent Study has increased.

“We’ve never had to issue this many Independent Studies. I think that within the first six weeks of school, we issued more independent studies than in all of a normal school year,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve definitely done more than 60 for those who were either positive or chose to stay home.”  

However, a notable 14.5 percent of students are frustrated with how they are informed of the program and supported during their time in quarantine, according to a poll done by the Crusader. A significant number of COVID related student absences have been marked as unexcused, with a number of absent students vocalizing that they only had some knowledge of the program, while others claimed to have never heard of it entirely. Freshman Lauren Valleza, who experienced a two-week COVID related absence, described the program upon learning of it as “crazy information I [Valleza] wasn’t expecting.”      

“Nobody, not one [administrator] contacted me. [I received] nothing from my teachers at all,” senior Alex Baker said, expressing his frustration at the confusion he experienced during his 13 day COVID related absence. 

Gutierrez explains how the Independent Study contracts are issued by email, and that ideally, students would complete the paperwork, receive signatures from their teachers and then submit the documents to him. Upon the student’s return from their quarantine, they would hand in five completed assignments to be marked present. He attributes the confusion amongst teachers and students to the BVH staff’s unfamiliarity with the Independent Study program, citing how this year marks a significant increase in their distribution. 

“Very few teachers were familiar with the Independent Study program because it didn’t happen as often. Now, they’re definitely getting them more,” Gutierrez said. “There are new teachers here who’ve never seen it and other teachers who have been here for a while who just haven’t had to deal with it. I think we, as a staff, could be better at going over all the processes and procedures.” 

37.5 percent of students who experienced a COVID related absence stated that they experienced a significant amount of stress when completing assignments during the time of their absence, according to a poll done by the Crusader. In addition to this, 14.5 percent of students strongly disagreed with the idea that they were being adequately supported by the school during their time away.

Two students at home experiencing different levels of stress. The left shows that a majority of students are stressed while the right shows very few are not. (Stephanie Liang)

“Every day [there were] missing assignments, and my [Baker’s] grades were just dropping and dropping,” Baker said. 

The transition process in which students return from their quarantine period and resume in-person instruction is difficult, and has the potential to “leave students behind”, according to English IB Higher Level (HL) 1 teacher Jason Good. 

“It can be really difficult to catch up. Especially because it’s not just my class, it’s all their [Chhan’s students’] other other classes too,” English 9 Accelerated and English IB HL 2 teacher Raymond Chhan said.   

Nonetheless, Gutierrez urges students to seek out Independent Study in the face of a COVID related absence. He adds that completing 10 days of quarantine through the program will allow students to earn attendance through finishing work and will require teachers to work specifically with the students that were absent. Furthermore, he asks the BVH community to acknowledge the unique situation the pandemic has led students into. He states that BVH staff are attempting to do the “best things possible” to support students. 

“We’re building up these processes and procedures that are currently in place, [procedures that] have not necessarily been used in this way before,” Gutierrez said. “There are definitely things we can do to streamline the process. It’s about things being new and having to be done better now that we see what works.”