Havre de Grace High rewrites sick policy

January 16, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

Parents of Havre de Grace High School students will get a letter this week informing them of a revision in the school's controversial absentee policy.

The original wording of the policy had called for a doctor's certification after a student had missed five days in one school quarter. Failure to meet the standard would have resulted in failing grades for the student in that marking period.

Now, parents can verify the illness of their children after five days, so a doctor's note isn't necessary.

The changed policy, though, allows for additional verification from a student if there is a pattern of excessive absence, principal James J. Bennett said.

"That would be an extreme case," he said. "We'll be looking on a one-by-one basis."

The initial policy prompted many parents to call the school, which has an enrollment of 544 students.

Those involved -- Mr. Bennett, parents and Board of Education officials -- have called the flap over the policy, which is a pilot program at the school this year, a failure to communicate.

"There was a concern with terminology," Mr. Bennett said.

Donald R. Morrison, schools spokesman, agreed that the literature, which was published in the student handbook, wasn't clear.

"As originally written, the policy was a miscommunication from school to parents," he said.

Vincent L. Way, whose daughter is a senior at the high school, became troubled when he received a letter from the school after his daughter was absent for three days, alerting him to the possibility that she could get failing grades if she were ill two more days that quarter.

"She's an excellent student [who was sick] with the flu," he said.

Mr. Way met with Mr. Bennett because of several concerns, including the cost of having to pay for a doctor's excuse, he said. He didn't understand why a parent's note wasn't sufficient.

"I got good cooperation from the principal," he said. "I realize his thrust was to go after the truant, not the sick student."

Mr. Bennett, who has been principal of the school for two years, said he was concerned about attendance at Havre de Grace, which did not meet the guidelines established by the Maryland School Performance Program.

The criteria call for a 94 percent attendance rate to get a satisfactory rating and 96 percent for an excellent score. Havre de Grace had a 91 percent rate for the 1992-93 school year.

A team of parents, teachers, students and administrators was formed to create this year's policy, the principal said. Mr. Morrison said each school sets its own absentee policy.

The results of the sick policy have been good, Mr. Bennett said.

"Attendance has been up . . . and the dropout rate is less than 1 percent," he said. Last school year, the dropout rate was 5 percent, he said.

But Mr. Bennett said he understood the parents' concern with the policy's phrasing.

"After Mr. Way brought it to my attention, it was clear we needed to change the wording," he said.

He also said the absentee policy will be evaluated at the end of this month.

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