October 6, 2010

Parents: Truancy Policy Too Rigid

At last week’s Derry School Board meeting, a draft of a new policy regarding what is and isn’t an excused absence drew criticism.


Union Leader Correspondent

 — While local schools will have to comply with a new state truancy law this year, the details of just what new policies will look like have yet to be ironed out.
The new law, which was approved in May and became effective in July, states that a student is considered “habitually truant” after 10 half days of unexcused absences in a single school year, down from 20 half days in the previous version of the law.
Further, the new law removes a clause allowing “parental or administrative permission” to excuse an absence, instead leaving it up to local school boards to define what constitutes an “ex
cused” absence. 
In Derry last year, Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon said 60 elementary school students and 51 middle school students were considered truant with at least 20 full days of unexcused absences. In some cases, she said, students missed more than 80 days of school without any documented illness. 
“I really have to believe that because of some of the issues with some people who cannot get their children to school for whatever reason, I believe that’s that reason Concord took it up as an issue,” Hannon said at last week’s school board meeting. “But I think that the unintended consequence of it all is how tight is too tight and how literal the interpretation of the law needs to be.” 
Last week, a draft of a new attendance, tardiness and truancy policy went before the Derry School Board, where it was met with some parent concerns. 
The draft policy includes a range of absences that would be excused, including school-sponsored events, the death of a family member, religious holidays, mandated court appearances and illnesses as documented by a doctor. 
If a student misses school for one day due to illness, the draft policy says the absence would be excused as long as the school nurse had been notified. 
Under the draft policy, school principals would also be able to approve absences related to a parent’s concern about their child’s “well being.” But not included in the list are things like family vacations, absences for other personal reasons and dismissals, among others. 
And for some parents, that’s a problem. 
“If I feel like my child has worked very hard and deserves a day off and I would like to give her a personal day, and she’s doing well in school, I should be able to do that for her,” said parent Stacy Snell at a School Board meeting last week. “I shouldn’t have to ask permission to decide that for my child.” 
Parent Melissa Vinson, who also addressed the board last week, said she felt there could be certain illnesses that could keep a child from school for longer than one day that would not require a doctor’s note. 
“An illness that demands removal from school by the district’s own policy and by state law should certainly be excused as such, and when a doctor is not necessary, parental notification should be sufficient,” Vinson told the board. 
After hearing parent concerns, the board decided to send the draft policy back to its policy committee for further review and a new version will return to the board again in the coming weeks. 
Deans at Pinkerton Academy are also in the process of looking at the school’s truancy policy to see if adjustments must be made to comply with the new state law, said Robin Perrin, of the school’s alumni office. 
Currently, Pinkerton students receive a Saturday detention for any unexcused absence other than illness or an emergency, according to the policy. Though no specific numbers are included in the official policy, the document says that administrators may involve a truancy officer or seek suspension for students who are “repeatedly truant.” Perrin said Dean of Students Glenn Ahren is meeting with associate deans next week for further discussion. 
Londonderry Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said the School Board will be reviewing its truancy policy shortly in an effort to adapt to the new state regulation. 
But the changeover isn’t a drastic difference for the high school, which already has a stringent policy in place for truancy, he said. The other schools in the district have varying policies. 
Under the current high school policy, students are allowed five unexcused absences per class. If they go over that, then they receive an “E” for that class, which amounts to an F, said Greenberg. 
“I think we already have a fairly tight policy in place,” he said. 
Union Leader Correspondent Matt Gunderson contributed to this report.

No comments:

Post a Comment