Board adjusts attendance policy

All absences now considered unexcused unless meet state criteria

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If your child is going to be absent, parents/guardians should:
Call the school’s main office to report the student’s absence on the morning of the absence
Notify the school’s main office for assistance to arrange make-up work for the student if future or prolonged absence is anticipated.
Send a written statement dated and signed by the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) or adult pupil when it is time for readmission to the class, with the reasons for the absence must be presented to the school nurse.

Student absences throughout the district have been recorded as “unexcused” unless they are for religious holidays or “Take Your Child to Work Day,” even though the district’s policy stated elementary and middle school absences are “excused” if called in and followed by a note.

The school board recently changed district policy to record all absences as unexcused to meet the state’s criteria, which lists only religious holidays and “Take Your Child to Work Day” as excused. According to the district’s former attendance policy, a phone call on the day of the student’s absence followed by a written note by a parent/guardian or physician stating the absence was due to illness for grades kindergarten through eight should have been recorded as an excused absence. That policy has now changed to clarify and reflect the district’s actual practice and conform to state requirements.

It has been standard practice of district nurses to record all absences as unexcused, but to keep track of students’ absences so that the cause of each particular absence can be noted, and the information can be used in an appeal process if necessary, on a case by case basis, to determine if a child is truant.

The high school policy was different. All absences are cumulative and considered unexcused. However, if a student approaches the maximum number of absences for a particular class, and the absence was followed by a note from a parent/guardian or doctor, those absences would be taken into consideration to be considered excused in an appeal process, and the number could be reduced, potentially permitting credit for the course. Also considered in these cases are absences due to family illness or death, educational opportunities, and other instances.

The policy for Elementary and Middle School now more closely resembles the High School Policy.

“This year all of the district’s schools are making a concerted effort to increase student attendance,” said James McLaughlin, superintendent of West Milford Schools at the board’s Feb. 18 meeting. “Work has been ongoing on district policies and regulations to create greater clarity and all of our schools are proactively meeting with parents when student attendance appears to be an issue. We are working hard to promote student attendance, which is well known to correlate with increased academic gains.

“At the same time, we are not promoting students attending school when they are ill. Cases of illness and chronic conditions will be taken into consideration and is certainly a factor during difficult winters such as our present season,” he added.

Whether excused or unexcused absences, the policy states that prolonged or repeated absences from school or from a specific class, “deprive the pupil of the classroom experience deemed essential to learning and may result in retention at grade level or loss of credit toward the high school diploma in accordance with policies of this Board.”

In order to be considered present at school and eligible to participate in extracurricular activities on a given day, a student must complete a minimum of four hours of school on that day.

A high school student will not get credit toward graduation in a course after absences exceed 10 percent of the class sessions, typically 18 days per year in a full year course, nine days per semester in a semester course and four days per quarter in a quarter course, according to the policy.

It is noted in the policy that absences include both full day absences and also absences from individual class. A class absence is counted when 10 minutes or more of the period is missed.

The new policy includes information on interventions the district and state require for certain numbers of absences, including parental notification, parental conference, school investigation, and more.

No one from the community commented to the board about the change in policy.

So what should parents/guardians do?

Unless your child approaches the maximum number of absences for a given year or class, this may not seem like a big deal, but it could quickly become an issue- especially for students who have a chronic or prolonged illness, injury, or some other circumstance or life situation that prohibits them from attending school. Some students have documented absences for family vacations, or simply have a bad year with germs that result in several illnesses over a certain time frame. Those absence days can add up quickly. Parents and guardians should continue to send in notes regarding absences due to illness, court dates, religious holidays, etc. to be filed in their child’s school folder in case of future need in an appeals process.

The district’s revised “Attendance Policy” and “Regulations” are posted on the district Web site at www.wmtps.org under the “Board” tab, then “Policies and Regulations.”

What are your thoughts about the district's attendance policy? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and tell us.

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