LACONIA — The School Board has enacted a new attendance policy at the High School that strengthens the attendance requirements students must meet to get credit for passing a class.
The new policy says that the maximum number of absences — excused or otherwise — from any class is 10 per semester. Previously the number was eight unexcused absences and excused absences didn't count as long as the course work was completed.
Excused absences are defined as school sponsored events; bereavement that is confirmed by a parent or guardian; religious requirements confirmed by a parent or guardian; court appointments confirmed by written documentation; guidance or special education meetings as confirmed by a counselor; college visitations confirmed by a parent and the college; and doctors notes confirmed by the doctor.
Students who are absent from school for part of the day without parental excuse shall be considered truant and will receive zero for all formative assignments that day.
According to board member Mike Persson, who sits on the Policy Committee, high school administrators have said that one of the biggest challenges voiced by private sector employees when it comes to younger employees is some disregard for timeliness and attendance.
He said high school students are at an age when they need to begin to step up and take responsibility for their futures and attendance is one of the key components to success.
The new handbook states that should a student have 10 or more absences, he/she may trigger an appeal process that will review the student's attendance and the reasons for them.
The appeals process will begin with the child's study team reviewing the absences. It the study team determines is one or more of the absences are based on "valid rationale", the administration will notify the parents or guardian with the list of expectations for the balance of the semester.
If the child's study team determines the excuses are not justified, the student can request a hearing that will include the student, the parent or guardian, the teacher of record, the guidance counselor and an administrator.
"The goal of the appeal is to improve attendance and ensure credit through the development of a contract that is supported by all parties," reads the new handbook.
The policy also says that teachers will not take classroom time to help a student catch up on his or her work. The student will have to approach the teacher during his or her non-instructional time and this had not changed from the previous year.
Policy Committee member Beth Arsenault said she was reluctant at first to draw such a solid line regarding absences.
She said she completely understands the need for "seat time" and added that once the committee came up with the appeals process she was okay with the more stringent attendance policy.
"I think it's all going to depend on how well the appeals committee works and who's going to sit on it," she said.
In related action, the School Board also extended the attendance requirements for participation in athletics to all extra-curricular activities.
Member Scott Vachon said he would not support the revised handbook if attendance policies only applied to sports programs.