PRINCE EDWARD – A parent of a senior, speaking in the public comment segment of the May school board meeting, raised concerns about school policy and student attendance at the high school.
“According to our handbook it states…that…six unexcused absences, the parents are notified,” the woman told the school board. “I've had no notification this year. I've had no phone calls. No letters. Nothing.”
In a June 6 letter to the parent from Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith, he noted, “As we discussed…I have implemented changes in the attendance policy as written in the Code of Student Conduct, as well as changes in the administrative procedures to be implemented for the 2012-13 school year. These changes should address the concerns that you shared with the School Board.”
The parent at the May meeting, citing her daughter's report card, reported that there were 111 total absences, 65 total tardies. (Absences are totaled by individual class period and the student registered few class absences early in the day, but registered as many as 30 for one class late in the day.)
“My concern is this is not just my daughter, that this is a high school thing,” the parent cited. “Children are coming to school. They leave half a day. There's no check out, there's no nothing. They just leave. Their friends are leaving with them.”
She added, “If my daughter was to go out skipping school and got in a car accident, am I just gonna get a 'I'm sorry' or flowers at a funeral? That's my concern. She gets on the bus, she gets off the bus. I'm expecting her to be at school.”
The parent, who said she contacting the principal, said she believes that it's not a teacher issue but an “administrative problem.”
“This is not a teacher issue. Our teachers work hard enough, they're under-staffed, they're under-paid and they need help getting these kids in their seats and there's nothing in effect,” she said.
She told the school board she wanted to know why her kid is not getting picked on.
“My daughter is graduating,” the parent said. “All these kids are graduating. There's nothing that can be done this year. It's done. It's over with. I want to see a policy in effect for next year. I want to see the school board come up with IDs for kids who have to leave half the day with their photo ID. I want to see somebody in that parking lot checking IDs. I want to see a computer system at the front of the school…kids have to sign out, that will solve this issue.”
When a student is absent, the parent also highlighted, they are allowed to make up work (including for suspension and expulsion).
If the absence is not excused, she contended, they should not be allowed to make up the work.
Following the presentation and the school board's scheduled closed session (the time the board typically discusses a response to public comment), Board Chairman Russell Dove assessed that the superintendent would need to follow up on some things and get the board some answers before they can respond. Once that received that, he added, they would send out a written response.
Board member Dr. Lawrence Varner also in the meeting requested that they find their previous high school policy statements about the requirements for passing the year regarding attendance and look into their statement regarding makeup work for unexcused absences.
Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith, when later contacted by The Herald, noted, “We began looking into the concerns immediately and there will be changes-some modifications to policy, existing policy, and also the procedures for handling attendance concerns, handling absence from classes concerns.”
Dr. Smith also noted that they took the concern seriously and “I looked into it to get more information and out of that is gonna come some changes that will tighten up the attendance procedures significantly for next year.”
It will apply to all three schools, the superintendent said.
The parent, speaking at the June school board meeting addressed the written response, offering that she did not think it's a handbook issue.
“Yes, I do believe that there was a flaw on the children being able to make up their work when they're skipping,” she said. “But it states in the handbook, you guys, that the school will call the parents if the kids are not in school. And, again, I don't think it's something that needs to be rewritten; I think it's something that needs to be enforced.”
The parent, noting she was kind of disappointed on the response from the board, also questioned the accuracy of the final numbers.
Three days, she asserted, her daughter was marked present, when she was not since the last meeting with the board.
“No matter how you add the numbers, they don't match,” the parent said. “So that's telling me either A), there's a problem in taking attendance or B) there's a problem getting the attendance into the computer system or to the report card.”
She also offered, “You can rewrite a book all you want to. You can rewrite them not being allowed to do their schoolwork all they want to. The problem is, it needs to be enforced.”
“It needs to be teachers working with (the) attendance office, working with the principal, working with parents,” the parent said. “And if parents don't know, as my daughter said today, the first time she skipped, they didn't call me. She got away with it. So I want to know that the board's gonna do-not rewrite a homework policy.”
Her daughter, she offered, finished with honor roll with 118 missed classes.
Dr. Smith noted at the June meeting that one of the things that they “found in reviewing the last two years Code of Conduct documents in comparison was that the entire set of attendance regulations were deleted from the 11-12 Code of Conduct. They are now being reinstated into the 12-13 Code of Conduct. We caught it before it went to the printer and so that puts back in place the earlier expectations.”
It will be the same as the 2010-11 school year and, the superintendent further cited, it will also incorporate the attendance regulation for the division that the board approved about a year ago that was developed by a task force studying that last year.
“They'll both be included in the high school Code of Conduct,” Dr. Smith said.
“There's some slight modifications in wording to bring the new attendance regulation and the earlier policies into full alignment, but it also is going to highlight the consequences for skipping…class…notes punishments. Now that didn't change. That was in there,” Dr. Smith said.
The superintendent also cited that the enforcement of the policy will be strengthened.
Dr. Varner asked if they would discuss at some point the make-up for unexcused absences.
“As a policy decision, I think that ought to be a board discussion. It's been a longstanding item in the Code of Conduct and Program of Studies…that make-up work is allowed,” Dr. Smith responded.
Even for unexcused, he agreed on follow-up.
Dr. Smith suggested that, before it comes to the board level, there ought be some discussion at the school level that includes key teachers in the building “probably a school improvement team discussion, which means it might need to change right at or right after the start of the school year.”
In discussing the response to public participation (and the parent's concerns), Dr. Smith noted that he has already “directed high school administration to analyze the report from the parent and take action to ensure that it is resolved. And, also, that we communicate back with (the parent).”