Parents are concerned about new changes to the Bridgewater-Raritan High School attendance policy that make suspensions non-chargeable offenses—but could penalize students for attending funerals.
Penny Wolf, whose daughter is a student at the high school, said at Tuesday’s board of education meeting that she is concerned students are being charged with unexcused absences for missing classes for what used to be excusable offenses.
“I just feel that maybe we went a little too far,” she said. “I see the policy now, and all my daughter’s friends are talking about it.”
The policy change was approved July 24, and says 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 will be subjected to administrative action.
This change was made in response to concerns that some students are racking up too many absences that are categorized as excused.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder has said that the policy change was done to send a stronger message from the administration about the importance of being in school.
But now some parents and students are concerned that the policy has been carried too far.
Wolf said there are certain days when representatives from colleges are around during the day for juniors and seniors—it would require a missed class, and her daughter is afraid to go.
“My daughter won’t go to these until she knows if it’s excused,” she said. “We have also talked about taking her out a day or two [to visit colleges] because it used to be allowed, but she won’t now.”
“She’s afraid because she’s being penalized,” she added.
Bridgewater-Raritan High School principal Brett Charleston said the administration is considering how to handle these kinds of absences, and they will probably be excused.
Wolf said she understands the importance of the absentee policy itself, but finds it disrespectful that students could be charged with an unexcused absence if they have to attend a funeral, or are sick.
“You’re charging kids who aren’t taking advantage of the system,” she said. “But if a kid is suspended for 15 days, that doesn’t matter.”
Schilder said that with regard to suspensions, state law says that they cannot count as unexcused absences.
“It says if you invoke a suspension, he or she cannot be charged for the absence,” he said.
And for cases in which students do miss more than the allotted absences for valid reasons, Schilder said, there is an appeals process to consider extenuating circumstances.
Still, Wolf said, she is concerned that students who are not trying to just get out of a day of school are being penalized, and will therefore come to school when they are sick just because they are afraid to miss too many days.
“A lot of kids are saying that if they are sick they have to go to school,” she said. “We have to look at the other side, there are some kids who are abusing the policy, but some aren’t.”
Schilder said he is actually glad to hear that students are talking about the policy.
“If kids are talking about it, that’s good because we did have a problem,” he said. “There was a large number of kids abusing the policy. Too many were taking advantage of the situation, and we had to tighten up.”
And while Schilder said he obviously does not want students to be in school if they are sick, he believes they need to give the policy a little more time since the school year has only just begun.
“I would say let’s give it some time,” he said. “I’m not convinced that this is going to continue to be a problem. We hope it will have the affect we want it to have.”
“We can’t teach if the students are not in their seats,” he said. “Ultimately, I think this will have a good effect.”