Board considers absence flexibility
October 30. 2012 1:43PM
The policy and practice of absence-counting dominated the discussion at the Dell Rapids School Board’s meeting Oct. 22, with a possible rules revision on the table.
The board previously discussed the absence policy during its Oct. 8 meeting, where Saturday detention used as absence makeup, pre-approved absence flexibility and absence limits on a per-building basis entered the conversation.
At the meeting last Monday, superintendent Summer Schultz presented board members with a list of area schools and their corresponding policies for student absences. She said that what is written in the school’s official rule isn’t necessarily what is implemented.
“Do you want to update the policy to reflect what we do in practice or (change the handbook)?” the administrator questioned the board. She added a recommendation that the group consider changing the current policy’s per-quarter limits to per-semester and that flexibility should be invited when students accept accountability for makeup work and pre-approving their absence(s).
The policy as written allows excused absences for events such as illnesses, bereavement, school-sponsored activities and observance of “major religious holidays.”
The phrase “a child may also be excused for other exceptional reasons with approval of the school administrator” spurred conversation amongst board members.
Board president Tom Morris suggested that omitting “exceptional” from the policy would add administrative flexibility to defer to handbook procedures.
Board member Matt Weiland was concerned that pre-approved absences can encompass a lot of possible reasons. “If you give the administration some flexibility … I’m kind of in favor of the time per-semester then.”
The handbook states that students are allowed up to five excused absences per quarter, after which six to eight absences would require Saturday detention makeup. More than eight would result in no credit for a given class.
Board member Troy Randall felt the limit should be reduced to five per semester, which spurred Morris to question the way in which absences were counted.
“I think if we reduce the number of days, we need to be more flexible with the way we count absences,” he said, using an extended illness as example.
Schultz asked principals present how they would handle a prolonged illness, namely whether multiple consecutive absences would count individually or as one.
Middle school principal Fran Ruesink said policy there is to only count sicknesses as lumped-together absences, whereas vacations would be counted per day absent. “One is a choice and one isn’t,” he said.
The principal suggested proactive work done prior to a vacation, for example, could cut the resulting absence count in half, as a way of providing flexibility to those that plan ahead.
Elementary principal Jay Nelson said that this sort of flexibility has been effective in other schools he’s worked at, adding that administrative approval on a case-by-case basis has also worked well.
The board ultimately decided that administrative flexibility revisions on a policy level would be considered during this school year, while implementation via handbook policy would be reviewed before the 2013-14 school year.