Ethics 101: Should you give your kid a fake note to excuse her from P.E.?

This came up at the Goose household yesterday. The Cat Who Walks Alone is taking an ice skating unit during P.E. this quarter (she’s a junior in high school). (And before we get sidetracked into, “Ice skating? We never had ice skating when I was in high school!” I will say that the school district is in deep money trouble, they’ve failed twice to get a bond referendum passed, it doesn’t look good for the third attempt coming up this spring, and high school P.E. has already been selected as one of the first programs to be cut for next fall. So.)

They take a school bus down to the Civic Center during the P.E. class period, which since they have “block” scheduling, is 85 minutes long. The P.E. class period takes place at the same time as four of the lunch periods.

Today, for some reason, the Civic Center won’t have any ice (they have dog shows and gun shows and flea markets there, too), so the P.E. teacher told the kids yesterday that if they bring a note from home excusing them from P.E., he will allow them to go sit in the cafeteria, instead of spending the entire class period sitting on the bleachers in the gym. He can’t simply allow his P.E. class to go hang out in the cafeteria, but he can wink at a “note” that says, “Please excuse my daughter from P.E. class today, as she has a doctor’s appointment.”

However, it can’t be a note that says only, “Please excuse my daughter from P.E. today,” because then she would be expected to stay with the P.E. class, which will of course be sitting on the bleachers. And Mom can’t give her a note that says, “Please allow my daughter to go sit in the library during P.E. class”, because that’s not how it works. She’s supposed to be in P.E. class, somewhere.

He has to have a note that has a reason for her to leave the school, and then if she’s caught hanging out in the cafeteria, instead of being in the gym, he’s off the hook. He can shrug and say, “Well, it’s not my fault if she decided not to do the doctor’s appointment, or brought in a fake note.”

Last night (late last night) I refused to give my daughter a note saying this. I said, “It would be a lie. You don’t have a doctor’s appointment. I’ll be happy to give you a note that says, ‘Please excuse my daughter from P.E. today,’ but not for a fake reason.” Tears and hysterics. “I’ll be the ONLY ONE there, everybody else will have a note…”

I told her, “You can ask Daddy in the morning and see what he says.”

So this morning we snagged the Better Half on his way to work and we all Discussed the Issue. And his response was, “Sure, why not?” I was shocked. “B.H., that would be a lie. The Buck Stops Here, with the parents. How does it look to our daughter, to see her parents, the Sunday School teachers, writing a fake note?” And then I got to bring in the Slippery Slope Defense, which I don’t get many chances to do, :D, “If we start there, then what’s next? What else will she expect her parents to lie for her about? What if she and I are riding in the car, and she’s driving, and she rear-ends someone again, and she’s already got one ticket, and she’ll lose her license? Will she expect Mom to trade places with her, and we’ll pretend like Mom was the one who was driving?”

He said, “Well, if she gets caught sitting in the cafeteria, who suffers? Us? No. Her? No. The teacher? Yes.”

I said, “Huh? If she gets caught sitting in the cafeteria, we, the parents, suffer–we get caught having written a fake note. And she suffers–she got her parents to write a fake note, and then she cut class, is what it amounts to. She knows perfectly well she’s supposed to be in a class somewhere, not hanging out in the cafeteria.”

He said, “But she’s got such a good record, she’s a straight A student, they’d never do anything to her.” And after a minute he said, “Well, except for that time in the 8th grade when she got into that fight…” I said, “Uh-huh…” And he said, “And, actually, she brought home some Bs last quarter, Chemistry and Pre-Calculus…” I said, “Ah-ha, grades slipping, cutting class, that’s how it will look. Then next thing you know, they’re asking her if there’s trouble at home, dear?’”

He said, “But the P.E. teacher would get in trouble.” I said, “No, he’d be absolutely off the hook. He can’t be expected to verify every note that every student brings in. He can just say, 'Wow, what an amazing coincidence, that the day there’s no ice at the Civic Center, every kid in my class has a doctor’s appointment.”

I said, “The P.E. teacher has a responsibility to provide an activity for his class. If there’s no ice skating, then it’s his job as the teacher to find something else for them to do, not just have them sit on the bleachers.”

He said, “At the Post Office lately, they’ve changed the rules, so that if you call in sick, you have to bring a note from your doctor. It used to be that you only had to bring a note if you were sick more than 2 days, but now it’s on the very first day. You have to bring a note from a doctor if you miss only one day. So people are basically forging notes from doctors, because it’s dumb to have 1300 hours of sick leave accumulated, and you want to take a day off for a bad migraine, but what’s the point of going to a doctor for that? So you forge a note. And the supervisor winks at it, and everybody knows what’s going on. So, isn’t that the same thing as this?”

I said, “No, because you’re forty-something and you’ve had many more years of experience in working your way through the gray areas of life. Also, it involves getting around what’s generally acknowledged as being a dumb rule, that’s only there to be a rule, not to help anybody. The rule at the high school about having to have notes to get out of class is there to help people, to make sure kids are where they’re supposed to be, and that they’re not just hanging out in the cafeteria. Also, nobody young and tender is watching you folks down at the Post Office to see how you handle things. The Cat is watching us to learn how to handle things, and I think she would learn a bad lesson about honesty from her parents. It’s bad enough that she’s learning a bad lesson about honesty from her teacher.”

So–anyway, the upshot of all this is, the Better Half had to defer to me, because as the Bible says, “The brother without scruples has to defer to the brother with scruples”, and he said, “Well, if you feel that strongly about it, then sorry, Cat, you’ll have to sit on the bleachers for 80 minutes today.” She wept, helplessly. I said to her, “How likely is it you’ll really be the only one there?” She had to admit, “Well, no, probably C. will be there, her mom probably won’t give her a note either.” (This is someone she’s known since First Grade.) I said, “Well, then, you can sit and talk to her.” “Oh, Mom!” [wail of despair] “Talking to C., she’s like–it’s like talking to a 3-year-old!” Horrors. :eek:

Well, so, what do the Teeming Millions say? Should you give your kid a fake note to excuse her from P.E. class?

You are married to your brother and you have a kid?

I would send a note in a sealed envelope to the PE teacher telling him to do his job and have the kids play basket ball or something.

'Please make my kid run laps.

signed DDG’

I think you were right in not giving The Cat a note. In addition to not writing a note, I would make a phone call to the school’s administrative office. Hopefully, the assistant principal or whomever you speak with is going to say “the gym teacher said to do WHAT?” At least, I would hope that’s what he or she would say. Of course, then not only will The Cat think you are a big nasty non-note writer, but a narc as well. C’est la vie.

No, no! How about “Please make my kid play DODGE BALL!” That would be much more exciting.

Sorry. I think you did the right thing, too.

Excuse me - what are “bleachers”?

As regards the moral conundrum - I really don’t see why the PE teacher didn’t arrange an alternative bit of physical exercise for them instead. Why could they not at least have done aerobics or something?



You were absolutely right, IMO. Our largest (and one of the hardest) jobs as parents is to teach the little monsters how to do right, and doing right is doing right, even when it’s a pain in the ass. If it were my kid, I’d be sympathetic, and possibly even offer some type of a little treat to take the sting out. A new book or a couple of magazines, along with an extra-good snack, or extra money to buy a snack and a soda will definately make that 80 minutes pass faster.

About narcing the teacher out for his nonsense – well, I like to err on the side of caution. Give him a stern warning, and a second chance. Send along a note putting him on notice that such as this will not be tolerated again. I would not send the note on the day in question --he’ll be swamped with notes on that day and, anyway, your daughter probably won’t want to be the bearer of such tidings. Send it to him in the mail – it’ll end up in his mailbox at the school and may even have more weight with him that way. Make it look official – typed on good paper, following a business letter format. Something along these lines:

“Despite the fact that this situation was very poorly handled, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you didn’t perceive encouraging the children to lie as an ethics problem. However, I do. If something of this nature occurs again, I will feel obligated to make a formal complaint.”

You don’t know what bleachers are? They are teired benches that provide seating for spectators, commonly seen in gymnasiums everywhere.

I’m with you DDG. If it’s OK for us to lie (even a little, tiny white lie) then it’s OK for them! IMO, you should pick up the phone and ask the teacher what’s going on? If you don’t get a response, I’d take it further. Basically, this guy is telling the kids to lie so he can cover his tail. What a great teacher! We all have to work together to raise these kids right & if that’s not happening at school then someone needs to speak up. Yes, it seems like a little thing but damn if those little things don’t just keep growing!

That idea rocks.

I would just say no. If the teacher is going to wink and nod, your kids should either:

a. Forge the note herself and take ALL the risks.

b. Sit there and read a book. (the horror:))
Either way, I agree that your role as a parent is to lay down nice straight easily understandable guidelines. Fudging here is only setting yourself up for trouble later when she does try this on her own and then uses this example as her precedent.

What’s so more attractive about sitting in the cafeteria as opposed to the bleachers?

Anyway, 80 minutes is no big deal. Do some homework so you don’t have to do it later.

Really, though, there should be some alternative PE they could do.

As re: the OP: I wouldn’t provide the note, but I’d just ask my son what he wanted to do. If he wanted to go to the cafeteria, I’d say, “go ahead.” If the PE teacher had a problem with it, I’d be sure it stayed his problem–not my son’s. I’m pretty sure that nobody at the school would press the issue very far.


I agree with you. Besides, what if something happens and the fake note is discovered? It’s not a good situation all around.

Why not simply be polite but blunt in the note “Please excuse my daughter from PE today. I would like her to sit in the cafeteria during her scheduled P.E. class today. I expect there to be no problem with this. If you have any concerns, please feel free to call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

While the school doesn’t have to cater to unreasonable demands, telling them that you want your child sit out a class like Ice Skating for a day is completely reasonable and the specific reasons are none of their business.

And I agree with Jess about the letter to the Coach, rather than an angry phone call. He probably meant well and your daughter is stuck with him. If he pulls this sort of thing again, however…


I was all set to agree with writing the fake note (you know, schools are bureaucracies and all that) until I got to the part about the teacher being able to deny it if your kid got caught.

To me that sounds like, “I don’t want to prepare an activity, so if you want to cut class, I’ll let you. But if you get caught, it’s your butt in the sling.”

I suggest a note to the teacher telling him that next time this comes up, to do what teachers all over the world do – pop a movie in the VCR.

the teacher was failing in his responsibility as an educator. that makes it even more important for the parents to live up to their responsibilities. Luckily for your daughter, you did so.

Now, about that brotherof yours . . .


Thank you to everyone who responded. The Cat came home and reported that only about half the kids were missing, and the rest of them just hung out on the bleachers and survived the experience. She admitted, “It wasn’t that bad.”

The Better Half’s response was, “Well, huh. So I guess we made the right decision this time.” (He had kind of a mildly dysfunctional childhood for which we all make allowances.)

I did ask her, Friday morning before school, if she wanted me to call the principal and ask him about this, but she was so horrified at the prospect that I said I wouldn’t. And I didn’t.

I understand that this isn’t the first time this teacher has done this, but the school district has so many other problems, and the principal is a very nice man with a heavy load to carry, that I’m reluctant to add to his burdens. And besides, I don’t want my kid to think I’m a narc, or as we called it in the Good Old Days, a “snitch”.

Strangely, after telling rhythmdvl to lie at job interviews, I must be completely hypocrytical and tell you that I think you’ve Done The Right Thing.

Kids aren’t as sophisticated as adults. Neither am I, but that’s another story. I’m not sure a teen or a pre-teen can understand the complexities behind such an untruth, or learn any lesson from it.

Anyone remember “Bicentennial Man,” by Isaac Asimov? No, not the silly film, the actual novella. In that story, a robot programmed to never lie eventually learns that telling untruths is a sometimes necessary action when pursuing a greater good. While it might be cool for the Cat to bask in the sunlight of an extended cafeteria session, I don’t think it benefits the greater good.

And props to Spiritus Mundi, who correctly points out that it is still the P.E. instructor’s duty to find something for the kids to do. Dropping the ball in your lap is a slack way of trying to muscle in some personal down time. Sorry, coach. You get that come summertime.

Maybe it’s just me but if I were The Cat, I would have forged a note of my own as soon as I got to school. I mean, if the coach doesn’t care if the notes are real or not, he can’t exactly care if they are “really” from the parents. Of course, then The Cat would have been the one in trouble if caught but she (along with the other students who were caught) could rat out the teacher. And honestly, if administration catches dozens of kids laying out of class with doctors’ notes, they are more than likely going to assume the notes are forged anyway.

Ehm, sorry if the tone comes of wrong, I mean it in the nicest way :slight_smile:

But will you just lighten up and write the note? :wink: It’s the teachere that’s asking them to bring in notes, it’s not like you’re even going behind his back. It’s just pointless beurocracy that wants them to sit on those damned bleachers instead of having harmless fun with their friends while they are still young and alive. It’s just wrong to me that things have to be this way, but giving in doesn’t help things.

And like someone said, it’s commendable of The Cat not writing her own notes. I think I’ve only known a couple of people that didn’t do that in school :slight_smile:
— G. Hrafn

p.s. no, I’m not still in high school, in case you were wondering about my biases :smiley:

I believe you did the right thing, and I think you should talk to the teacher about this, tell him there should be a better way out of this, such as him having the kids perform some other kind of PE activities during the time they could not skate - I took weight training for one of my PE credits, but when the football team was using it we ended up out on the field running wind sprints or playing football. I think the teacher may have been lazy (was he there in the stands with the girls who didn’t bring notes?) and planned on using this time for something else. Asking the children to be deceptive was thoughtless of him, and he should be let known that you and several other parents thought it was not the right thing to do (as evidenced by the number of girls in the gym).

Rysdad, spending the 80-something minutes in the cafeteria was probably an attractive idea because it was during all of the classes lunches, which would allow you to spend free time around classmates who normally had a different lunch than you. Big social boon. I was pretty antisocial myself, but I would have preferred a cafeteria seat to a bleacher myself, I would also have a nice big table to draw or write on (or play D&D, paper war games or Star Frontiers if the right friends were there).

Cripes! Buncha moralistic fascists on the boards nowadays. . .

From the OP:

No, the rule about notes is there so that the school can be sure that parents know when their children are missing school (or Phys. Ed. class). You knew about it, so the spirit of the rule would remain intact w/ or w/o your fake note.

As for this P.E. teacher: Everyone seems to have a serious problem with him here. While it would be best if the class were busy with something, maybe that’s not exactly feasible. Perhaps the class HAS to be at the rink – public school bureaucracies are funny that way. Perhaps no space was available in the gym. Perhaps the school isn’t insured if a kid gets hurt doing push-ups in a parking lot. Whatever the reason, the teacher wasn’t getting out of any work with this scheme; he still had to watch the kids who DID show up. For bureaucratic reasons he can’t just give the class an hour off, so he lets those whose parents believe in utility sit where they’d like to sit instead of where they have to. Seems like an act of kindness to me. (And since dumping half of a gym class in the cafeteria is tough to cover up, this is almost certainly cool with the administration, which means that you guys don’t get in trouble either.)

So, should the note have been given out?
I think so. It’s not a big deal either way. Cat’s moral universe isn’t going to collapse because you told a lie, just like her life wasn’t destroyed by your honesty. Several people here have suggested that it was important not to write the note because she is an impressionable child. In the first place, she’s in High School not pre-school; I’m certain she’d understand and fully appreciate the difference between lying with a wink and a smile to this P.E. teacher and actually trying to deceive someone regarding something that actually matters (which this doesn’t). Furthermore, the real world simply doesn’t work like this. Good people fudge certain rules (such as “don’t lie”) when they conclude that it really doesn’t matter, or that the consequences outweigh the transgression. The part of the world that’s black and white is incredibly small (if that). Making determinations about the gray is what we do. Here, your daughter judged (correctly, I think) that the traditional admonition against telling untruths had no realistic application in this case as no one would be hurt (or even deceived) by it.

Aside fromt the moral aspect of the question, it’s one of simple courtesy. Through a very small exertion on your part, your daughter could have spent 80 minutes in relative comfort.

Of course, if you think it’s a moral outrage to lie in these circumstances, then you had only one choice; I just disagree with your moral judgement (as well as the notion that the note would set a bad example).

I’d love to go on, but this is too long as it is. (And I’m tired.) And like I said, no big deal. Besides, you know your daughter better than I do.

“but when the football team was using it” should be “but when the football team was using the weight room”. I probably shouldn’t be posting stoned.