More Attendance

I stopped by the Courthouse this morning on a routine errand, and happened to run into Dave Clark, District Attorney, in the hallway. I asked for a moment to discuss my concerns about the proposed attendance policy, and as it turns out, some of the same concerns that I expressed Monday night had also crossed his mind.

What he hadn’t heard (or thought of) was the increased potential from this policy to cause parents to send their children to school sick, but I think he accepted it as a valid concern.

A few minutes later, I ran into a friend who knows Judge Meldrum well, and she told me that the Judge wants to talk to me — a conversation that I welcome. April is an extremely smart, capable, and compassionate woman, as well as a wonderful juvenile judge. As such, I think we can work together to iron out the kinks, and help us to get it right: a policy that achieves the objective of reining in truancy, without overwhelming the Juvenile Court with frivolous referrals of responsible, law-abiding parents and students. Or scaring people unnecessarily.

On my way out of the building, I also ran into Kevin Ledden (who came to Monday’s Board meeting on behalf of the Juvenile Court), and spoke with him briefly. He said they’re planning to meet again later this month, and that he made note of my suggestions.

We recognize that our attendance policies (in all three Anderson County school systems) need some work, and that there is considerable benefit in a substantially uniform policy for the purpose effective enforcement.

We also recognize problems that occur now: that some parents will write a note saying the student was sick, when they were not. The parent may be covering for truancy (because they don’t want to deal with the consequences, which can include fines and jail time for the parents), or that they may have kept the student home to babysit a younger sibling. There have even been instances of parents stealing a pad of excuse notes from the doctor’s office, then sending in forged excuses.

Still, teachers and principals generally know when they’re being scammed; it’s just that until now, they couldn’t get any cooperation from the DA and Juvenile Court to do anything about it.

We have an opportunity to work together to correct the problem without throwing common sense and good judgment out the window. It seems to me that we should allow principals the ability to excuse an absence in advance when justified, and that we should allow them the discretion to decide when a referral to Juvenile Court is justified. I firmly believe that they know the difference.

Principals have said that factors considered include a student’s prior attendance record, academic standing, and so forth. Obviously, one could conclude that a student who has missed little or no school, is performing well in all classes, and who has a record of turning in homework might be a better candidate for leniency that one who is chronically late or absent, is failing, or who does not turn in required work.

The whole goal is to improve learning and graduation rates for the kids who are falling through the cracks. It’s hard to learn if you don’t show up.

This isn’t just an Oak Ridge issue — Clinton and Anderson County school boards will be voting on this same policy in the next few weeks. School Boards speak through policy, and policies should be clear and concise while maintaining enough flexibility to adjust to individual circumstances.

As any woman knows, “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t fit anyone well.

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