The controversy over the Clarke County School District’s handling of a January sexual assault at Cedar Shoals High School unearthed a number of broader issues within the district, and as the Board of Education continues to work through those issues, they’re tightening up the district’s attendance policy for the 2016–17 school year.
Attendance was a major topic for parents and teachers at an April community forum on discipline issues. According to statistics distributed by Executive Director for Student Support Services Ernest Hardaway to the BOE’s Policy Committee on June 29, 48 percent of CCSD students missed six or more days during the last school year. (That’s enough for the state to consider those students truant.) About 12 percent missed 18 or more days. Both those statistics are up a couple of percentage points over 2014–2015. “The trouble is, if you compare ’15 to ’16, it’s going the wrong way,” school board member Greg Davis said.
“If you read the national statistics, they’re staggering,” Superintendent Philip Lanoue said. While some students might cut class or linger too long in the bathroom, others face real challenges that keep them away from class, he said. “We have [students] babysitting [younger siblings]. We have people with jobs. We have all kinds of reasons,” including students who are homeless or in foster care or whose families move a lot. But Gaines Elementary cut absences by 900 days last year “because they focused,” Lanoue said. “We need to make this a district focus. This is our priority: Come to school.”
Being late or absent is usually the parent’s fault in elementary and middle school, Hardaway said. In high school, it’s on the student—and high school kids are a lot more likely to miss class.
The policy revisions came out of a committee of administrators, teachers, counselors and students, Hardaway said. They will require schools to more closely track attendance, contact parents when students miss more than four days and develop plans to help chronically late or absent students.
Students can make up work they missed during excused absences, and both administrators and board members rejected the notion of docking tardy or absent students’ grades. “What we don’t want is students who have a behavioral problem being penalized for an instructional issue,” said Sherri Freeman, the associate superintendent of human resources and student services. Instead, counselors, social workers and behavioral specialists should address the root problem, she said.
Pending approval from principals (who are currently between contracts), the Policy Committee signed off on the new attendance policy, as well as a more colorful and user-friendly version of the Student Code of Conduct. The full board will vote at a July 14 called meeting to leave time for the Code of Conduct to be printed before teachers come back to work in late July.
The timing means public comment won’t be taken before the vote, but the student attendance policy is available online here. Lanoue said he will email the link to parents and accept public input on the board’s behalf.