The scoop on skipping

It’s 10:59 a.m., a minute before block 4 starts. A student hesitates at the doorway of their next class, weighing the pros and cons of attending. Considering the lengthy lecture ahead of them, grabbing a quick meal from Stonestown or studying for their block 8 test are both tempting alternatives. “I can just get the notes from a friend,” the student reasons to themselves, as they turn on their heel and briskly walk out of the building.

Every day, students at Lowell decide to cut class. Despite Lowell’s reputation for being home to a group of serious, responsible students, 39 percent of Lowellites have admitted to violating SFUSD’s attendance policy by skipping class at some point in their high school career, according to a survey of 334 students from three registries in each grade conducted by The Lowell.

Studying for a more important class is the most common reason students cut class. This is especially true for upperclassmen who often choose to take on more AP classes than freshmen and sophomores, causing their workload to drastically increase. As a result, the percentage of students that skip class rises 39 percent from 25 percent freshman year to 64 percent junior year. Senior Adam Feng, who took five APs during his junior year, would often cut class in order to complete assignments. “I didn’t [skip class] freshman or sophomore year, because I didn’t have a reason to,” he said. “I wasn’t that stressed, classes weren’t that hard. But definitely junior year was when the pressure started building up.”

Jillian Carrillo
Lowellites constantly weigh the costs and benefits of skipping class.

On top of academic pressure experienced by students, many participate in multiple extracurriculars and feel too tired to attend class. Class of 2018 alumnus Raymond Huang was a member of Lowell’s cross country team in the fall and track team in the spring, both of which practice for over two hours most weekdays and even on some weekends. This meant that Huang would often get home late and have to stay up late to finish his assignments. As a result, Huang constantly felt sleep-deprived, so he would often skip class to take a nap. “I just couldn’t keep going,” he said. “I needed a break. If I didn’t need it, I wouldn’t cut class.”

Some students skip class for mental health reasons. Claire, a senior who has chosen to use a pseudonym, often felt overwhelmed by her heavy workload last school year, causing her to cut class at times when she felt that her mental health was deteriorating. “The trade-off where I skip class is better than being in class and potentially having a panic attack,” she said. Claire feels that when a student’s mental health is at stake, cutting class can be necessary. “The thing with cutting class is you cut class when you need it, not just because you randomly don’t want to go to class,” she said.

The temptation to cut class can get worse during senior year, when students feel especially unmotivated to attend class. With three years at Lowell already under his belt and only a few months until graduation, class of 2019 alumnus Henry Lei felt that he needed a break from academics and would often cut class, especially during the second semester of his senior year. “At Lowell, for the first three years everyone is like, ‘Oh, I got to get this A, take this AP class,’” he said. “Senior year, it’s just like, ‘I just want to pass.’ There’s mental fatigue. You’ve been here three years, day in, day out.” Instead of going to class, Lei would spend time with his friends. “During fourth block, sometimes [my friends] would want to get food at Stonestown or just crash an empty classroom and play on their [Nintendo] Switch,” he said.

Students are especially unmotivated to attend class when they feel that class is unproductive and new material is not being covered. Lei would often skip Economics and AP Environmental Science when he felt that the teacher was covering material that he had already read in the textbook. “Sitting through a lecture when you can just read the textbook is boring,” he said. In those classes, Lei would only show up if there was an assignment due or a test. Similarly, senior Kush Amarbal often skipped English class during junior year, especially when her teacher was giving one-on-one essay feedback to other students after she had already received hers. “I don’t feel the need to go to the class if I have already completed my task in the class,” she said.

Data from a survey conducted by The Lowell. Infographic by Anita Liu.

Even though some Lowellites choose to skip class, other students have never cut. Sophomore Kelsey Ma believes it’s important to attend class every day because teachers might be relaying important information during class. “I don’t want to miss any information that the teacher might give out for tests or miss any homework dates,” she said. Sophomore Jamie Woo doesn’t skip class because she doesn’t want to fall behind. “Missing one day at Lowell is like missing an entire week at any other school,” she said. Regardless of these reasons, many students continue to skip class.

For many students, skipping class is only worthwhile when there aren’t serious consequences. According to the SFUSD Student Handbook, cutting class is considered an “unexcused absence.” Typically, students aren’t allowed to make up the work they missed, but teachers may make exceptions and unfinished assignments often do not end up having a significant impact on students’ grades. As a result, this policy is not enough to stop many students from cutting. “I feel like the real punishment you would get with not being in class is just missing an assignment or having your grades slip,” Claire said. “Because I do the work outside of class if I miss it, then I’m not punished.”

Though in most classes the punishments for cutting aren’t severe, certain teachers have policies to ensure that their students come to class daily. Amarbal frequently skipped her French class junior year, but her teacher began deducting a point each time she cut, causing her grade to drop considerably. “Once I saw the final [semester] grades, I was like I have to stop,” she said. Amarbal began to attend French class more frequently. However, she continued to skip other classes, like English, where her grades were not suffering.

Instead of cutting class, Feng suggests that students explain to their teachers why they feel the need to skip class. “Teachers at Lowell understand how much stress Lowell can offer to a student,” he said. “If you just talk to them heart-to-heart, they should be very forgiving and give you a lot of leeway on things and give you the space and time that you deserve.” Teacher Matthew Bell believes that teachers are willing to work with students who are dealing with issues that make it difficult for them to come to class. “I can’t think of an adult here who doesn’t have the mindset of wanting to make sure that a student has help,” he said.

In addition to not facing consequences for cutting at school, many students are not punished at home. Parents receive phone calls after the first two unexcused absences, and after the third absence, their child is considered a legal truant and a letter is sent home. But being a legal truant does not have larger implications for the student, so many parents don’t do anything to stop their children from cutting. Lei says that his parents often let him decide whether or not to attend class. “My mom told me, ‘If you cut class, that’s on you. If there are consequences, then you will just have to accept them,’” he said. “Fortunately for me, there weren’t any serious consequences, so it was fine.” Other parents, such as Claire’s, don’t mind if their children skip class, as long as they maintain good grades.

The fact that some parents don’t punish their child for cutting class upsets Bell. “Why wouldn’t a kid do whatever the heck they think they need to do if they feel like there’s not consequences at home?” he said. However, even when parents do disapprove, it’s not always enough to stop students from skipping. Feng’s parents give him a lecture on the significance of attending class if he skips, and will make sure he doesn’t cut class in the following weeks, but after a while, Feng continues to skip if he thinks it’s necessary for him to complete assignments.

It’s now 11:54 a.m., a minute before block 5. The student has to decide if they will go to their block 5 class. They hesitate again. Should they attend and fill out another worksheet that’s just busywork? On the other hand, that block 8 test is still looming on the horizon. “Studying is a better use of my time,” the student says to themselves. They turn around and go to the library.