The Perspectives on Exemptions

The semester is coming to a close and students will resign themselves to the winter holidays. However, they must first complete the obstacle of finals. According to the MISD Student Handbook, each semester final takes up 20% of an overall semester grade, proving final exams majorly impact a student’s academic performance. To relieve possible stress, the school offers two exemptions to those who have fulfilled the requirements. Academic Associate Principal, Shira Fuller expands on the criteria for exemptions. 

“To have exemptions available, you must meet a certain criteria. One must earn 80% or higher in the class, have only 2 or less absences in the class for the semester, and not be reprimanded in any way or form: whether that be through AC (Alternative Classroom), or OSS (Out-Of School Suspension). Also, students in AP classes get an extra exemption in the spring semester for their advanced placement classes,” said Fuller.

During the height of Covid-19, the school did not have the absence rule in place, as students were out sick on a frequent basis. This year the policy was reverted back to what it once was. Fuller explains the way absences tie into exemptions and provides reason for its existence.

“Both unexcused and excused absences count towards the exemption policy. The only absences which do not affect exemptions are ones with the school. That includes field trips, college visits, and jury duties, as we do have some 18 year olds here. It really has to do with what types of attendances are funded or not funded. Doctor’s notes are not funded. This is a district policy. All of the academic associates from all the high schools in MISD get together and meet on what the exemption policy should look like. We took away the attendance last year because of Covid. That is no longer the case,” stated Fuller.

Some students are unhappy with the change that was made towards exemptions. Junior, Matthew Godbold believes that the current system is unfair towards those with disabilities. 

“I think the absence and tardy policy is completely biased against students who are chronically ill. In a country where we do not have free health care, some students do not even get excused because they don’t have doctor’s notes. It can be too expensive to go to the doctor. As somebody who’s absences is mainly because of illness, I cannot even get exemptions. In several instances, a lot of students cannot get exemptions. They should not be so nit-picky about attendance if one’s grades are good,” said Godbold.

Due to the current policy, some students may be attending school knowingly sick to avoid losing their exemptions. Senior, Addisyn Ross discusses this issue and proposes a solution.

“If you are sick, you are not allowed to have exemptions. If you want them, you have to go to school ill and risk others getting sick. Some students are pretending to be good because of the current exemption policy, since they care so much about their grades. In my opinion, exemptions are important as they work for leeway for the student. However, they are not worth causing harm to others along the way. If you have above an 80 you should have as many exemptions as you want. You already passed the class, why do you need to take a test because of a certain amount of exemptions,” stated Ross.

Fuller responds to Ross’s concerns and emphasizes the importance of safety.

“There have been parents that have said ‘my student is coming home and telling me that there are kids coming into school sick.’ We encourage kids to stay home, but we cannot test the kids here unless they go to the nurse. We cannot be overly invasive. My heart goes out to the students. Yes, exemptions are a really nice treat and privilege, but if you are sick, you need to stay home so you can get better. We wish they wouldn’t come to school sick. It is just finals, your health is much more important,” said Fuller.

When an individual exempts a class, their semester average remains unchanged by a final exam score. It will neither drop or boost one’s standing academically. Although Sophomore, Angel Olvera is unbothered by finals, she contributes part of her success to exemptions. 

“Exemptions are somewhat needed to succeed in classes. If you are doing badly in the class it might be worth exempting if you do understand the material and are passing it. While I do think taking the final can be worth it, because it boosts your grade. It can also be too stressful. I try not to let finals bother me because it just isn’t worth it,” stated Olvera. 

Junior, Emily Dixon views the possible loss of exemptions with anxiety. She views finals as a source of stress and really wants to do well academically. 

“Personally, I had to deal with anxiety towards finals. The reason why I was able to calm down a bit was because I had my two exemptions, plus the free exemption for my AP class in the Spring semester. I 100% believe that they make mental health go down. Because of this, the school should revert the policy to what it was last year,” said Dixon.

Mental Health Days, a newer concept within most workplaces, are designed to give employees a sense of relief from their day-to-day lifestyle. Junior, Ava McKee yearns for mental health days to become a common practice in an educational environment. As it can aid in one’s personal struggles without academic consequences.

“Mental Health Days should be counted as an excused absence, they also should not count towards exemptions. If a student is struggling, it is okay to miss a few days to work on themselves. It is not really fair to count it off towards them, as being in a better mindset is more effective academically, especially when finals can put so much pressure on a student, exemptions are integral. Having no exemption leads to stress,” stated McKee.

As it has not been demonstrated in a school environment, Fuller does not believe Mckee’s proposal would work in today’s education system. However, she understands the mental stigma around high-state tests and suggests students to find a support system to get through it.

“I am thankful that finals aren’t the ‘end all, be all’ because they can be really stressful. When I was growing up, we didn’t have such high pressure testing. Finals can be a very big deal to those who are either on the cusp of passing or are pushing for a spot in the top 10%. They can be both high stakes and competitive. It is important to find a way to mitigate the stress, especially when as an adult you deal with mitigating stress daily–depending on the situation it can take a toll on your mental health. It is less about finals and more about knowing as a human what things keep you healthy and whole when you’re under duress. Some forms of that may be mental health days, which I think could be something in the future, but without enough research it would be hard to figure out something like that in a school environment,” said Fuller. 

While  the fairness within the current exemption system may be questioned by some students’ minds, being held responsible for attendance is standard in all Texas high schools, Lake Ridge is no different. According to Fuller, it serves a role in preparing for the future. 

“It is important to hold students accountable for attendance because this is something that they will be facing in the future. It is especially important to think about discipline when you talk about Junior High and High school because the brain is still developing. We’re not preparing them for the real world if they do not feel what a consequence feels like. It can be a high standard to hold, but it is a pretty typical policy–especially the attendance part of it. Students should go into the finals not thinking about negative outcomes, but with the intention to do their best. Even without exemptions, students can find all different ways to prepare as long as they take care of themselves in the process. It is important to remember that finals do not define intelligence,” stated Fuller.