The truth is out there
It was a surprise, but not a novelty. I'd had students do this before. They vanish for a couple of weeks, then suddenly reappear in class. Usually there are elaborate excuses, but sometimes they slip back in as if they hope I don't notice they're back (or were ever missing in the first place). This student, however, was not following the typical script. “Gee” came charging right up to me in front of the prealgebra class. I assumed, however, that I was ready for her.
“Well, hello, Gee. May I ask why you're here?”
She had been missing for four weeks. Students don't usually bother coming back after that long an absence.
“I need you to tell my sister I'm enrolled in your class.”
Okay. This was new.
“Actually, it's none of your sister's business, although I dropped you from class for excessive absences.”
“But can you tell her I'm in the class?”
“If your sister asks me, all I can say to her is that I'm not permitted to talk about a student's status.”
“Yeah, that's good! Can you tell her that?”
“I have to tell her that. Our students have privacy rights and we faculty members cannot ordinarily discuss our students with third parties. I can't tell your sister anything.”
“Oh. All right. Is it okay if I sit down?”
“There are desks to spare. Knock yourself out.”
She hustled over to a corner of the classroom and sat down. If Gee was pretending to be a student, she was doing a fairly bad job of it. She had no textbook, no writing implement, and no notebook or paper. She did have her cell phone, of course, which she promptly began to check for messages. It was like old times, before she stopped bothering coming to class.
The rest of the class was unremarkable. We worked over the new material, answered several questions, and assigned some homework. The class period ended and my students began to flow toward the door. Uncharacteristically, Gee stayed put at her desk. I understood why when a woman worked her way into the room against the flow of traffic. She looked like a slightly older version of Gee. The new arrival came bustling up to me just as her younger sister had an hour before. They were very alike, although the older sister had a very serious expression.
“Is my sister in your class?”
“Excuse me? I don't know who you are.”
She pointed at Gee, who was sitting there with an innocent expression on her face.
“That's my sister. Is she in your class?”
“I'm sorry, but that's privileged information. The school's privacy rules don't allow me to discuss my students with outside parties.” Actually, Gee wasn't my student anymore, but I was pretty sure the privacy rules applied to former students, too.
The sister looked unhappy and prepared to argue. Gee sauntered up and proceeded to put her foot right in it:
“You can see I'm right here. Dr. Z told me I had been dropped from the class by accident.”
Stupid girl. Her older sister turned toward her.
“You said you were enrolled. You didn't say anything about being dropped!” She turned back to me. “Is that right? Was Gee dropped by accident?”
“Again, I'm sorry. You'll have to discuss that directly with your sister.”
The older sister was exasperated. Gee had recovered her composure after her flub, smirking slightly when I did not rat her out. Clearly her older sister was the family enforcer and was checking up on her spoiled kid sister. Perhaps Gee was living rent-free at home because she was supposedly going to school. I didn't know the whole story, but I knew that Gee was shirking and her sister was trying to get the goods on her. I decided to be more helpful, while punctiliously observing the privacy rules. I addressed the older sister:
“If you need to know the details of Gee's student record and you don't want to just take your sister's word for it, there's an easy way for Gee to document it for you. All she needs to do is take you with her to the counseling office and ask her counselor to share her academic record with you. If she gives her counselor permission to share her information with you, then the counselor can tell you anything you need to know.” Of course, I could have asked Gee to waive her privacy rights right there and give me permission to clue in her sister, but I was eager to get them out of my classroom. I also figured that Gee's counselor would have a treasure trove of fascinating information, whereas all I knew about was Gee's behavior in prealgebra.
Gee's face went suddenly blank. Her sister brightened.
“Oh! Thank you, professor. Come on, Gee, we need to go to counseling.”
She grabbed her younger sister by the wrist and dragged her out of the classroom.