When Charlene White’s mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer, her first instinct was to pull her daughter out of school for a week so that the pair could spend some time together. She never expected to be stuck with a fine.
That’s exactly what happened, though. The single mom, from Yeovil in England, is now on the hook for nearly a hundred bucks (£60) for taking her daughter out of school to go on a weeklong vacation with her dying grandmother. White told Daily Mail that when her mother, Sharon, was diagnosed with the deadly cancer, she was advised to spend time with her family — doctor’s orders.
“The doctor said [to] do what she wants to do now because she won’t have the chance to again.” What the grandmother of five wanted to do was take her kids and grandkids on a short coastal vacation to Devon, England. She booked the tickets herself, and White happily pulled her 7-year-old, Kia, out of school to soak up some time with her ailing grandmother while she still could.
Unfortunately that resulted in the school fining White for truancy, in part because Kia had been absent before for an illness. While no one would argue that it’s really important for kids to be consistently present at school if they’re attending a public institution, penalizing a little girl for seeing her dying grandmother is way out of order.
At this age, kids aren’t learning complex algorithms and philosophy. They’re filling out worksheets and learning vowel-consonant blends. It’s easy to make up this information. You can provide kids with supplemental lessons, review material they missed and get them caught up on one week’s worth of spelling word finds and math mazes. You know what you can’t do?
Give them time with a dying relative back.
No one in their right mind would prioritize second-grade curriculum over time with a loved one who is ill and potentially dying. Fining them for it is a level of heartlessness and cruelty that sounds downright villainous. Cancer is a terrible thing, and the unfortunate truth is that you can almost guarantee that at one point or another you will be affected by it either directly or indirectly. You may even need to make a choice for you and your kids — a week in school, or a week out of it, spending precious time with a loved one who may not have a lot of time left.
It will be no contest, and you would not want your pain to be compounded — or what could be some of your last best memories tainted — by arbitrary rules about when you are allowed to put formal education aside for more important things or, God forbid, a punitive fine.
White plans to pay the fine with the hope that it will relieve the additional stress placed on her mother during a time when that’s the last thing she needs, because yes, this story actually does get more heartbreaking. According to White, her mother feels guilty for possibly getting them in trouble. In the grandmother’s own words:
“All I wanted to do was just spend time with them all. I’m not going to be able to see them get married or do anything with them. If this doesn’t count as a special circumstance, then I don’t know what does.”
To pour salt on the wound, while Kia was absent for five school days in August, White wasn’t notified of the fine until October, after a conference in which Kia’s teachers assured her mother that she was doing well in school and that they had no concerns whatsoever about her education.
There is one lesson the 7-year-old is sure to have learned from this entire ugly debacle: that there will always be people willing to put rule-following over what is right, even when it does far more harm than good.