October 13, 2010

Truancy Policy Approved by School Board

Despite revisions, some parents are still unhappy with the school district’s new guidelines. 


Union Leader Correspondents

 — After several drafts and rounds of parent input, members of the Derry Cooperative School Board approved a truancy policy yesterday they say will balance state law with local needs.
“We were trying to make it as fair as possible, but also stay within the guidelines of the law,”
 said school board Chairman Kevin Gordon. “It was tricky for a while, but I think we did pretty well with it.” 
The board first looked into revising its attendance, tardiness and truancy policy last month to align with a new state law approved in May. 
Under the new law, New Hampshire students are 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. 
But the law allows individual school boards to define what constitutes an unexcused absence, which is where the bulk of attention from parents and the Derry board has been focused. 
At a public hearing last month, several parents took issue with a proposed requirement that parents supply a doctor’s note after a student is home sick for one day. 
But under a new version of the policy presented at last night’s school board meeting, that number has been increased to three sick days of unverified excused absences for illness. 
A first draft of the policy counted family vacations as unexcused absences, but the new version says that vacations during school are “discouraged,” but that absences may be excused by school principals with at least two weeks notice. 
The new policy also added absences due to bad weather or a state-notified health alert to the excused list. 
A section of the policy was also reworded to clarify for parents that only preliminary truancy intervention measures, like a phone call to parents, would begin after six half days of unexcused absences in a single year. 
Several parents present at previous public hearings spoke last night, with mixed feelings about the changes. 
Though parent Melissa Vinson said she still hoped to see a higher threshold for intervention measures, she told the board she was satisfied with the new policy. 
“I appreciate how much feedback as a parent I was able to provide the board,” Vinson said. “I felt like I was listened to and I felt like I was treated respectfully with every interaction with everyone through this process.” But parent Stacy Snell, who also spoke at last month’s public hearing, said she still had issues with providing verification for absences and the six half-day threshold for preliminary truancy intervention. 
“As long as (my children) are performing fine in school, I think that my word about where they are and what they are doing should be enough,” she said. “And in terms of the intervention, I think a meeting with my children’s principal is a complete waste of his time, as well as my time and I think he ought to have a little bit of discretion.” 
Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon said the policy includes a clause to allow principals to account for unique circumstances. 
The policy was met with unanimous support from the board, and Gordon closed out the discussion with a word to those parents who spoke up. 
“Normally policies like this don’t go this much to the public, but we knew this was very important to you,” Gordon said. “So we thank you very much for your collaboration and your patience.” 
The full policy will be posted on the school district website and mailed home to all parents in the coming weeks. 

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