BOE Changes Policy on Consequences for Absences
Certain numbers of days away from courses can now lead to administrative action.
With one vote against and concerns over whether punishment could be doled out unnecessarily, the board of education approved a policy change July 24 that alters the wording in the district's attendance requirements.
Concerning loss of credits for Bridgewater-Raritan High School courses, the policy previously said that anyone absent more than 16 days from a year-long course, 12 days from a physical education course, eight days from a semester course and four days in a single marking period course may be subject to consequences.
The change now says the students will be subject to administrative action.
Board of education member Jeffrey Brookner said he believes this discussion first came up because there were concerns about absences being categorized as excused when they were “weak at best.”
“Especially in those circumstances, there are huge numbers of absences racked up without consequence,” he said. “So they are racking up large numbers for orthodontic appointments [and others] because they don’t want to do it later in the day.”
Brookner said the policy seems to now be designed to address these concerns by leaving the discretion with the administration.
“We are not imposing consequences as a matter of course, we are making it clear that just because it is excused, there needs to be someone who has authority to say you missed x days, you weren’t on your death bed, you didn’t come to the course, you are not getting credit,” he said. “If there are generally excused absences, the administration would not impose the consequences.”
Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder said the purpose of the change is to send a stronger message from the administration that being in school matters.
“We want you in school, and that’s the best opportunity to teach you,” he said. “We still want flexibility to administer the consequences as we see fit.”
“This is a stronger message to students and parents that we value seat time,” he added.
Parent Penny Wolf said she is concerned by this change, particularly for students who do get sick, and choose to come to school instead.
“My daughter is upset when she gets sick, and she goes to school when she gets sick often, along with her classmates,” she said. “I understand what you are talking about, and there are kids who don’t want to be there, but there are kids who are afraid if they miss four classes of health, so they come to school sick.”
And board member Cindy Cullen said she does not think there should be consequences for excused absences.
“I think it is wrong to have consequences for excused absences, and to even have administrative action,” she said. “Moving from ‘may’ to ‘will’ is a cosmetic issue. I think there is no need to change this.”
Still, the board voted in favor of changing the wording.
“I think it has to be discretionary,” Brookner said. “If there are generally excused absences, the administration will not impose consequences. If they are sort of excused, they will be looked at.”