With 4 extra days, school absenteeism soars

June 22, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

When the school year started, no one expected to be in class this week.

And, many students are not.

Absentee rates hovered around 20 percent yesterday for some schools in Carroll County, although many of the absent students had legitimate excuses and made up their work ahead of time, principals said.

When the school calendar for 1992-1993 was announced last spring, schools were scheduled to close June 18.

Because of more snow days than county school officials had bargained for, everyone but the seniors who graduated over the weekend was supposed to make up an extra four days this week to meet the state-required 180 days of instruction. Carroll schools will close Thursday.

When the calendar adjustment was made in April, many families already had booked vacations for this week. Those students are excused but had to make up the work and take exams ahead of time, principals said.

This week's work will count toward fourth-quarter grades, they said.

Other students planned to attend Boys State and Girls State conventions sponsored by the American Legion. Still others had Future Farmers of America conventions. And music camps. And church camps. And plain old summer camps.

Middle schools and elementary schools seemed to fare a little better, with absentee rates of 10 percent to 18 percent, based on calls to a sampling of schools. Edwin Davis, director of pupil services, said he had no countywide figures.

New Windsor Middle School had 10 percent absent, said Principal Jeffrey Kimball, compared with a typical 6 percent to 7 percent.

"There was a field trip for eighth-graders -- we had almost 100 percent attendance in eighth grade," Mr. Kimball said.

Carrolltowne Elementary had 13 percent absent, compared with 3 to 4 percent at midyear, said Principal Nancy Chapin.

Though many absences were prearranged, some were not.

"I can understand if parents made plans for vacations," Ms. Chapin said. But parents who allowed their children to stay home because they just didn't want to go to school are setting a bad example and bad precedent, she said.

"Parents go to work whether they like it or not," she said. "I'm bothered because I think it's important for parents to relay to the children that this is a commitment, whether they like it or not."

She said teachers have tried to make the last week as fun as it is educational, with math carnivals, paired reading activities and storytelling. "I haven't seen a video yet," she said.

At Westminster High School, about 18 percent of the students were absent yesterday, compared with an average of about 6 percent the rest of the year, said Principal Sherri-Le Bream.

Attendance was "down as bad as I thought it would be, to tell you the truth," she said.

Ms. Bream said she had no figures for the number of excused absences but that she was sure most were pre-approved family vacations, conventions, college seminars and other activities.

At Francis Scott Key High School, Principal George Phillips said that of the 23 percent of students who were absent yesterday, about one-third had been excused.

As for the rest, "we'll see what the notes say when they come in" today, Mr. Phillips said.

Students caught skipping school will be disciplined as usual, according to whether or how often they have done it before, said Mr. Phillips and other high school administrators. Punishments range from detentions to suspensions, and include Saturday school. However, the last Saturday school session for the year was three days ago.

Al Abbott, assistant principal at North Carroll High School, said a truant student caught this week might be sent to Saturday school next fall.

PD Mr. Abbott was vague on the exact absentee rate but said it was

about 10 percent higher than usual.

At South Carroll High, the rate was 11 percent, with more than half of the absentees gone for prearranged, excused activities, said Carol Swomley, assistant principal.

"We have two exams yet today," she said yesterday.

Liberty High School had about 30 percent of its students out, compared with a typical 5.5 percent, said Assistant Principal Robert Bowden. He said most were excused.

Some principals said last-week attendance is always a little lower than during the rest of the year.

Charles Carroll Elementary had 18 percent absent, compared with an average of 8 to 10 percent for the end of the year, said Principal Robert Bruce.

"It's sort of like a time-release capsule with the end of the year, no matter when it ends," he said. "There've been some kids winding down since June 1."

Sandymount Elementary had 16 percent absent, compared with about 8 percent at midyear, said secretary Jeanne Fink.

Winfield Elementary had 11 percent absent, compared with about 3 percent at midyear, said Principal Raymond Mathias.

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