Board decision adds teeth to district’s attendance policy

Attendance Awareness Month may be a wrap, but school districts throughout the country are continuing to emphasize to families the importance of regularly getting children to class.

Alabama’s Dothan City School Board recently approved a new attendance policy that district officials say holds parents more accountable for their children’s attendance, especially for elementary school students.

Now, if a child accumulates 10 or more unexcused absences, the school will automatically withdraw the enrollment of the student. The student can be re-enrolled after the parent pays a $25 fee.  If the student receives three additional days of unexcused absences, the department of human resources is immediately notified.

The new policy focuses on reducing high rates of unexcused absences that can lead to a student being considered truant. By extension, the change also works to address problems many schools face with chronic absenteeism, which is defined by the state as missing 15 days throughout the academic year for any reason.

“Basically, what this addendum (to the  policy) does is give a bit more bite to the previous policy, or more responsibility on the parent to make sure their children are coming to school,” Scott Faulk, director of safety, security and attendance at Dothan City Schools, told local reporters. “Being absent from school is being absent from learning.”

Faulk said the district’s issues regarding truancy most often occur on the elementary school level, because while older students often have the ability to get themselves to class, younger children rarely have a means to get themselves to school if their parent doesn’t take them.

While racking up high numbers of absences can make it difficult for students of any age to keep up with their coursework, research suggests it may be an even steeper climb for young learners. Those who are chronically absent are less likely to read at grade-level in third grade, which puts them at a disadvantage as they move onto more difficult subject matter in later grades.

In Dothan City Schools, absences are considered excused for family emergencies, funerals or if they are in observance of religious holidays, among other things. Faulk said that if a student misses school because of a medical or dental appointment, they must have a written letter from a parent, or a doctor’s note, turned in within 48 hours of the absence.

And, if parents put a note in a student’s backpack, he said it is the parent’s responsibility to let the teacher know there is an excuse note in the child’s backpack – as kids are notorious for losing things in their book bag.

“My message to parents is to please get your children to school, so we do not have to go to these measures,” Faulk said, noting that even excused absences can add up and set children back.