Absentee Policy Penalizing Good Kids, Parents Say

But the district says everyone should give it a little more time.

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.”

Karl Andrew September 27, 2012 at 08:34 PM
OK, let's talk about attendance. We had High School "Back to School Night" last week for my 11th grader. ONLY 3 TEACHERS SHOWED UP. 5 DID NOT. Gonnella, Weiss, Manko, Coldwell and Cordova all decided that they didn't need to be there. We were told that because there are 2 nights of Back to School (1 for Fresh-Soph and 1 for Junior - Senior), that teachers could opt to just go one night. Really? 2 nights is too much? Wow. These are the people that ask for our support? They tell us how hard they work? Didn't they just have the entire summer off? You can't come to Back to School Night 2 nights in a row?! What? Kudos to the teachers that did their job. Unfortunately many did not. It's no wonder that the school is falling fast in the state wide standings. I wish we had better.
teachB-R September 27, 2012 at 10:03 PM
The requirement is for teachers to be present at 1 back-to-school night... usually associated with the majority grade level for which they teach. As a parent of a junior this should have been explained to you for the third time this year and you should have planned ahead. Parents could have attended on both days as the schedule of what teachers were present each night was provided in advance.
BwaterDad September 28, 2012 at 03:06 PM
teachB-R, so what you are suggesting is that a couple thousand parents should attend two back-to-school nights for one child, so that a couple hundred (or whatever) teachers can attend only one? I think you've got that backwards. The teachers should be required to be there both nights. I had the same experience as Karl Andrew, usually only half (or less than half) of my childrens' teachers at the high school were present on the night for their grade. I got used to it, but I didn't like it. I actually did go twice one year in order to see the rest of the teachers, but I then I was attending during courses that my child wasn't even enrolled in, just because they were taught by the same teacher. If everybody did that, the classrooms would be overflowing with parents.
Mike September 28, 2012 at 03:26 PM
BRHS attendance/appeals policy is here: http://www.brrsd.k12.nj.us/HighSchool.cfm?subpage=2338 There should be some latitude (test = could the absence have been rescheduled during a time school did not meet?) but I reiterate my original point: > > > > > SIXTEEN ****ing DAYS < < < < < If a child is that sick that often, there is a serious problem.
Mike September 28, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Yeah, the school is plummeting. Move to Elizabeth, whose HS was in the top ten.
momofthreegrls September 28, 2012 at 03:50 PM
College visits excused or unexcused? Funerals excused or not excused? Perhaps I need the "Idiots Guide to BRHS Absentee Policy" manual. to "teachB-R"...I'm not sure if you are really a teacher, but your reply is rude. I surely hope you don't have that condescending attitude toward my children.
BwaterDad September 28, 2012 at 04:00 PM
In response to both Karl and Mike: I think we have a great high school, and it's a team effort of (not in any particular order) the teachers, the administrators, the central administration and school board, the community, the students, and the parents -- parents, some of whom care so much about their childrens' education that they get irritated at the idea that they show up for the back to school night on the assigned evening and only half their student's teachers are there, because they are only required to attend one night.
Mike September 28, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Examples of Chargeable Absences are: 1. Personal illness (regardless of parent note or doctor’s note) 2. Death in the family 3. Truancy 4. Medical appointments 5. College visitations 6. More than 20 minutes unexcused late from class 7. Class cuts 8. Nurse’s office visits 9. Driver’s license test 10. Take Your Child To Work Day Examples of NON-Chargeable Absences are: 1. Participation in field trips, athletic competitions, school activities 2. Suspensions from school 3. Religious holidays – as recognized by the NJ Department of Education 4. Mandatory quarantines – as ordered by a medical professional 5. Court appearances SOURCE: http://www.brrsd.k12.nj.us/HighSchool.cfm?subpage=2338 Pretty straightforward, no?
Mike September 28, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Conferences are *much* more important/significant than BTS night. BTS gives a taste for what the teacher is like and what the child's schedule is like. At least at the HS, syllabi are distributed and class rules are discussed (guess what: they don't change from Kindergarten). Teachers who have mixed (9-12) classes often redirect parents to another class to get the materials; many do come both nights (those who don't/can't often live far away); these are mainly elective teachers.
momofthreegrls September 28, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Thanks "Mike"... all clear now. Pretty much everything is chargeable that didn't used to be. There's so much I can say about some of these "chargeable" but I'll express my opinion when it's time to "re-elect" those who instituted this policy.
Mike September 28, 2012 at 09:01 PM
@momofthreegirls: I don't think THAT much changed? Bear in mind a lot of this stuff is dictated by the STATE Dept of Education. High school is supposed to get kids ready for the adult world, right? Where I work, sick days are subject to confirmation via doctor and personal days are heavily scrutinized (if it can be done outside of work hours, it's denied). Bereavement days are detailed (e.g., 5 for immediate family). So we should extend this, where possible, to high school kids (I gather the absence problem is far less at lower grades - someone correct me if I'm wrong). I believe events that cannot be scheduled for non-school time (e.g., funerals) should be non-chargeable, and many of the rest should be chargeable. Changes I'd make include some allowance for death in family, max of two days in junior year and two days in senior year for VERIFIED college visits, and a half-day for driver's test. School should be able to investigate patterns (out lots of Mondays and Fridays, student comes back with tan and "Cancun 2012" in February, etc.) if abuse is suspected (yeah, it's a bit subjective - so are most employers) and challenge validity. Or, God forbid, a committee of teachers, administrators, parents, and students make recommendations to the BoE. Teachers can send home work, but missing that much interaction/instruction is usually irreplaceable.
BwaterDad September 28, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Mike, there is some merit to all that, but we're talking about 2 hours or so a year. It would not kill the HS teachers to show up both nights.
Mike September 29, 2012 at 02:07 PM
You should consider running for BoE yourself.
Brhs_mom September 30, 2012 at 12:21 PM
In this day and age when employees can work from home and students can earn entire degrees online, why is the BOE so obsessed with seat team? This policy might of made more sense in the eighties. Being absent and making up the work independently teaches self-discipline and responsibility. Parents who have the means should expose their students to the world via vacations and they all should be encouraged to take their children to visit colleges. Kids who are sick should be able to stay home without fear of retribution. Who is this policy putting first? What does this say about the values of the B-R school system?
Brhs_mom September 30, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Another quick question, if "seat time" is oh so important, why does Bridgewater-Raritan only offer half day kindergarten? Another out-of-date policy. Here's hoping the election brings new members who want to focus on education and not just asserting authority.
Mike September 30, 2012 at 01:08 PM
First, let me say I love your passion, BRHS_mom. And I heartily agree that it's great to expose kids students to the world via vacations and college visits. And if you have the time and means to provide those things to your children, then by all means do so. And in an ideal universe, all kids have an insatiable hunger for learning and the maturity, drive, and discipline to use all their resources to do so, including online instruction. But "sick kids should go to school!" was said by...no one. Ever. Retribution? Really? But when it comes to outside your own home, you have no clue what you're talking about; you don't know what you don't know (Dunning-Kruger in da house). Starting with the fact that most attendance rules are set by the NJDoE and statute (N.J.S.A. 18A:38-31), not the BRRSD BoE. Then there's the valuable give-and-take that occurs in the classroom where (hopefully) social skills are learned - in a real social setting. Along with other responsibilities like showing up on time, presentation skills, etc. You are free to home-school your kids or send them to Pingry or the private school of your choice. You are also free to run for BoE or even DoE and share your copious knowledge and expertise to change the rules. Hey, if your kids can do it, why can't the kid from Plainfield - whose parents are locked up for drugs and whose aunt or grandmother is raising? What part of B-R do you live in? Lake Wobegon?
Mike September 30, 2012 at 01:16 PM
1) To save money. 2) Because Kindergarten is NOT required by state law (N.J.S.A. 18A:38-31). While some parents would be thrilled to have that option, many taxpayers would revolt at further subsidizing others. You know, makers and takers and all that. 3) Because many parents prefer to have the private daycare they've used for years provide that service. 4) You should DEFINITELY run for BoE. But first, you might to read up on State Administrative Code and Statutes as they pertain to your rants, especially if you're going to accuse people (BoE) of "just asserting authority."
Mike September 30, 2012 at 01:24 PM
I re-read your post and really am truly amazed that anyone would think that since adults can work from home, so can children. I respect your right to believe that, and you may be blessed with a child who has that ability, but VERY few do. Hell, I know adults who "work from home" - in between chores/repairs, a 2-hr errand/lunch run, going to the gym, taking that conference call in the mall, etc. I don't know a single child who's going to ignore facebook, twitter, 500 channels with nothing on, Xbox, sleep, food, etc., and concentrate on why the War of 1812 didn't end sooner or how to conjugate the verb 'ir'. A similar mentality that says if a college professor can teach to a lecture hall full of 400 Psych 101 students who are 19 - 40 yrs of age, why can't a high school teacher handle a room of 38 14- and 15-year-olds (not that YOU made that claim, but others have). BTW, what would YOUR attendance policy be?
Crim_dad September 30, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I am confused. Is the BOE just enforcing a state mandate or are they changing policy and adding twists on their own authority? If it's the latter, why? Why would anyone choose to fail passing students. Shouldn't credit be based on demonstrating mastery of content and skills rather than showing up to class?
Crim_dad September 30, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Also, off topic, but I'll post here because someone brought it up. Why doesn't this district offer full-day kindergarten? Just because it isn't mandated doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered.
Mike September 30, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Regarding full-day kindergarten, it's a MONEY issue (as well as a space issue). I'd bet a month's pay it would never pass the voters. Hell, even without full-day kindergarten on the table, Raritan voters have passed exactly TWO school budgets since the early 1960s! Regarding attendance, the HUGE majority of it is law; the local districts have a little wiggle room here and there. You could start by reading the laws and contacting administration (at Wade) or a BoE member for clarification. I actually don't disagree with you that SOME students are motivated enough to self-teach for the most part; but do you really want to go to a "voluntary attendance" policy? Remember, these are CHILDREN we're dealing with. A teacher friend just told me one of his students refused to erase a wrong answer because it was TOO MUCH WORK! How many students who are missing in excess of 20 days do enough work, at sufficient quality, to otherwise pass the course? VERY FEW. As it is, society wants to hold teachers accountable for student performance - even the kids who are drunk, high, make little/no effort, can't speak English, or don't show up. Eliminating any attendance requirements accomplishes...what? It always amazes me that simply by having attended school decades ago, many people consider themselves experts on education. I flew to Florida on a plane, now I'm an aviation expert.
Mike September 30, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Actually, I'd like to see suspensions count against students. Perhaps they'd think twice before fighting, stealing, smoking, etc., if they knew it could lead to loss of credit (and repeating a grade and/or attending summer school)? The wonks who make the rules have either been out of the classroom too long or have never taught. In fact, Chris Cerf, the Commissioner of the Department of Education, "taught" four years at an exclusive country club school in Ohio, so I'm sure he really understands what's going on in the classroom...NOT.
Jeffrey Brookner September 30, 2012 at 10:15 PM
The policy only comes into play if a kid misses 16 classes in a year-long class. Two out-of-state funerals for 2 days each and two weeklong illness still leaves you 2 days to play with!!!!! This is hardly draconian. Plus, the consequence of going past 16 is that you have to go before an informal committee to explain your absences. If you can, you'll be fine. As to full day kindergarten, we'd have to add 5ish percent to our budget and build bathrooms to comply with state law. Plus, class size at grades 1-4 would go up. I love the idea, but we can't do it right now. Please note that I speak for myself, not the BOE. Jeffrey Brookner Member, B-R BOE
Mike September 30, 2012 at 10:59 PM
@Jeffrey Brookner: Well-stated, sir. @Whiners: Nothing like reading from a knowledgeable, primary resource. So much better than hollow, bloviating rants about "asserting authority" and "retribution" (someone's radio is stuck on NJ 101.5 FM, I suspect). Actually, retribution is "punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved" so what's wrong with that? Thought I'd call it a consequence more than a punishment. @All: FYI, some of the half-day programs at area pre-schools have busing arrangements with elementary schools to make full-day kindergarten possible for those families with two working spouses (and no nanny/au-pair), albeit with a cost. Nothing's free. As it is, kids who want to do anything from school newspaper to act in a play have to pay a fee now. It's a matter of time before Christie gets his way and most of K-12 is privatized (he and Cerf come from the private education industry and were registered lobbyists). But that's another kettle of fish.
BwaterDad September 30, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Regarding full-day Kindergarten, the question has been asked many times over the years, and the answer is always the same, as mentioned above: Money. Lots of money. I remember an estimate of $1 million additional in teacher salaries and benefits, and $10 million (very roughly) for additional classrooms. Now, that was somewhere around 7-10 years ago. Since then, the number of Kindergartners has gone down, so the number of teachers and classrooms needed has probably gone down a little; salaries and benefits have gone up; and K-4 enrollment overall has gone down, meaning there are probably SOME classrooms available, but maybe not enough. And as Mr. Brookner points out, even if there are enough classrooms available, they need to be turned into Kindergarten classrooms, primarily meaning bathrooms. So any way you look at it, it's a multi-million dollar proposition. Fitting that cost into the budget means crowding out some other things. What? Or else the voters would have to be asked to approve an above-cap budget and/or a facilities referendum. History does not suggest a favorable outcome for either.
Metoo October 01, 2012 at 12:25 AM
My son didn't like HS and he didn't miss 16 days across 4 years.
Mike October 01, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Might be cheaper to subsidize using local pre-schools rather than building.
Mike October 01, 2012 at 02:50 AM
It's about commitment and responsibility. If a child is too sick to attend school >3 weeks out of 38, there's something really wrong.
Mike October 04, 2012 at 12:54 AM
For those interested in full-day Kindergarten, don't count on Willard for help... http://www.americanbridgepac.org/2012/05/wire/research/bridge-briefing-mitt-romney-k-12-education/
Harry Bumdiddler November 12, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Enough already


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