In school, attendance matters. The problems caused or accompanied by truancy are usually more than just academic — there are often behavioral and legal issues, sometimes neglect or abuse.
That’s why I’m delighted that our new Juvenile Court Judge, April Meldrum, and our new District Attorney, Dave Clark, have approached the three school systems in this county to try to standardize on an attendance policy that will enable them to help address the problem in a meaningful way.
On tonight’s first reading though, I voted against it as presented. The first draft, discussed at tonight’s board meeting, is here.
I fully expect a couple of changes to appear before the second reading next month, and if they’re there, I’ll support it. But I think it’s important for parents to read and understand this proposed policy before the second reading goes through, and attend the meeting and provide input if they have significant concerns.
On page 1, line 30, the policy defines the extent to which a parental note will excuse an absence for illness. As written, it’s ambiguous, but the intent is that a parental note is only valid for the first five days missed — whether five days in a row, or one here, two there, etc. throughout the school year. After that, a doctor’s note is required.
One of the problems I foresee is that even more parents will go ahead and send children to school sick, spreading the illness to others — students and teachers alike. That’s not good. There are usually a number of occasions when a child is sick enough to keep at home, but not necessarily sick enough to need to go to the doctor.
The other part that bothers me is on page 2, line 11:
Upon the 6th unexcused absence, a referral will be made to the Anderson County Juvenile Court’s Campus Court.
The problem with this is that the definition of what will be excused is fairly narrow (illness, death in the family, verifiable family emergency, religious observation, severe weather, or court appearance/legal mandate), and it’s likely that a significant number of responsible, conscientious parents would end up with a court referral. You can see in the scanned page that I’ve marked through the word “will” and written in “may,” because this would give school officials the opportunity to use common sense on a case-by-case basis.
Unfortunately, most responsible and conscientious parents would absolutely panic upon receiving that court referral; the sad part is, the small minority of parents who really need to be hauled into court for allowing their kids to skip weeks of school probably wouldn’t even flinch.
If the wording is changed on these two items, I’ll likely vote (grudgingly) to approve the policy next month. Yes, grudgingly, because I still have grave concerns about parents sending their kids to school sick to avoid running afoul of a draconian attendance policy that would force them to the pediatrician for every sneeze or cough, just to get the coveted doctor’s note.
Yes, we must address truancy and attendance problems. But I cannot justify punishing everyone in order to snare the guilty few.