Parents who want to take their children on family trips during the school year and students who want to visit colleges on weekdays expressed unanimous opposition Thursday night to proposed restrictions on those school absences.
The school board heard the objections of 15 parents and students and one high school principal to rules that would bar students from making up school work missed during college visits or trips.
The rules are part of a proposed attendance policy that would putan end to the prearranged absences now permitted at some schools through which students are allowed to make up work they miss.
Instead, college visits, vacations, family reunions and other trips would bedefined as unexcused absences and students would have to take a zeroon missed school work.
The May 23 public hearing will be followedby a discussion and vote on the policy at the June 13 school board meeting.
Several speakers said the policy would force parents to invent "illnesses" for their children's absences, since illness would be an excused absence under the policy.
The comments prompted a sharp response from board member Karen B. Campbell.
"No one is forcedto lie," she said. "Every piece of testimony I have heard tonight would have been more convincing if the tag had not been added, 'You will force us to lie.'"
However, several speakers said the inflexibility of the proposal leaves "illness" notes as the only alternative tojeopardizing a student's grade point average.
Charles Koppelman, a parent and teacher at Wilde Lake High School, objected to making college visits an unexcused absence.
"I'll just give a note saying, 'To whom it may concern: Please excuse my daughter on Thursday and Friday. She had a cold and a sore throat,' " he said.
Other speakerschallenged the policy for what they saw as an inconsistency in attempting to punish students who are absent for reasons such as college selection while allowing suspended students to make up work.
The state Board of Education requires all school systems to treat
suspension as an excused absence.
"Does it really make a difference why a student is out of school?" asked Sue Ann Tabler, who will retire asprincipal of Oakland Mills High School in June. "Isn't it in the student's best interest to make up the work for whatever reason?"
ThePTA Council of Howard County endorsed a change that would allow students five days of excused absences a year at parental discretion.
But for some students, five days is not enough. Carol Brain, whose son, David, is a graduating senior at Oakland Mills High School, told the board that her son missed 13 days of school this year but graduated with a straight A average.
David was absent for reasons ranging from helping with the school play at Stevens Forest Elementary Schoolto representing Tandy Corp. Technology Scholars at a press conference in Washington, his mother reported.
He also made college visits to the University of Maryland and Rice University, in Houston.
College visits should be made on weekends, Department of Education administrators suggested when they revised the draft policy.
The version drafted by a committee of parents, students and school administrators would have allowed an unspecified number of legal absences for college visits.
Students counter that weekend visits don't give an accurate picture of college life and that admis sions and financial aidofficers are usually available for interviews only on weekdays.
If attendance in Howard County schools has been a problem, school officials should be letting parents know, suggested Kathy Raab, representing the Hammond Middle School PTA.
"I had not been aware that attendance was a problem or that the board wanted it improved," she said.
Howard County's 95.7 percent attendance rate in grades one through six earned a satisfactory rating under the Maryland School Performance Program.
The county's 93 percent attendance rate for grades seven through 12 is 1 percentage point below the MSPP satisfactory rating. All Maryland school systems are under orders from the state Boardof Education to adopt attendance policies.