A proposed change in the wording of the school district’s attendance requirements policy is headed back to committee after board members debated whether one word could make a significant difference.
Current policy says that a student with more than 16 absences from a year-long course “may be subject to consequences up to and including retention.” It also indicates that a student “may be subject to consequences up to and including loss of credit. A student who satisfactorily completes the curriculum objectives may not receive credit/promotion if the attendance requirement is not fulfilled.”
The committee had recommended changing the “may” to “will.”
Policy committee member Daniel Petrozelli told board of education members Tuesday night that high school administrators had come to the committee requesting the change because the current policy “was getting abused at the high school.”
Board member Ann Marie Mead, who also sits on the committee, added that administrators had noticed what she described as an “up tick” in the number of absences. “There was a problem they felt needed to be addressed,” she said.
Jeffrey Brookner noted that the change “removes the ability of the administration to use a little bit of discretion. I would like language in here for the administration to have discretion.”
Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Dyer pointed out, “There is a certain amount of ambiguity this is trying to clear up.” She added that, by state statutes, graduation is dependent on attendance as well as performance and reminded the board that an appeal process is already in place.
“Even if you have a real excused absence, you can lose credit in the course. It does not take away your obligation,” she said. “The policy doesn’t speak to the appeals process but the student handbook does.”
Lynne Hurley also indicated concern with the use of the word “will.” “Not everyone’s missing because they’re cutting,” she said.
Brookner recommended adding a phrase such as “absent unusual circumstances” or a reference to the appeal process that can reduce mandatory sanctions.
Jill Gladstone added that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a change in policy – “they just have to enforce it,” she said.
Dr. Arvind Mathur made a motion to table the proposed change so the committee could revisit the wording and consider including a reference to the appeal process.
“That might be more in line without penalizing those who are legitimately absent,” said Board President Evan Lerner. He asked the board for “a little deference” in light of the fact that the high school administration “came to us with a problem.”
Mathur’s motion was unanimously approved by the board.