School Attendance Policy Isn't 'Sick'Your editorial of...


January 23, 1994

School Attendance Policy Isn't 'Sick'

Your editorial of Jan. 7, titled "Havre de Grace High's Sick Policy," is an inaccurate characterization of Havre de Grace High School's attendance policy and our efforts to work with parents of students with chronic absenteeism.

The Maryland School Performance Program (MSPP) has established an attendance standard for all Maryland schools delineating 94 percent attendance as satisfactory and 96 percent as excellent. MSPP also set five days per marking period a maximum standard for individual absences.

We want to work with parents when our assistance is needed. The key here is contact with the home. We make an attempt to contact every parent of every student who is absent. Most parent responses have been positive. We are working with parents and students to develop a regular and consistent pattern of attendance for each student. . . . We do not demand that a family must see a physician and pay a doctor to certify an illness. We do require parents to explain excessive absences. If we continue to see patterns of poor attendance, we then request a doctor's note for chronic or persistent health problems. This allows us to develop appropriate strategies for instruction. . . . All students benefit from direct instruction, discussion and stimulating and challenging instruction when present. We need to know why students are absent so we can tailor appropriate instruction for the student whether he or she is an honor student or not.

Yes, there are consequences for not meeting the standard set by this policy. Any parent who feels there are circumstances that require special consideration can appeal directly to the principal. The appeals process is available to all. Several parents have used this procedure successfully. As of this writing, we have several students with attendance problems who are exhibiting dramatic improvement.

At the end of the first semester, this pilot attendance policy will be evaluated and revised where appropriate so that the needs of this community are met. . . . If all stakeholders agree the program is not successful, we will return to the old policy. If all stakeholders agree the program is successful, we will present our findings to the Board of Education and request permission to implement the policy.

We shared with our Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) our need to improve the attendance and dropout rates at Havre de Grace High School. A team including concerned parents (of students who attend regularly and of students who are having attendance problems), teachers, students and an administrator was formed and given the charge to examine the ways the school could assist in getting students to school each day. We established our attendance policy to support the minimum standard set forth by MSPP.

The result was a policy that is based on the premise that success in school is dependent upon continuous and consistent classroom instructional experience. Students need opportunities to develop an appropriate sense of self-worth, to establish satisfactory peer relationships and to develop responsibility. We further believe that each day in the classroom is a valued experience where students are engaged in stimulating activities that cannot be duplicated outside this environment. Every day at Havre de Grace High School there is exciting and exceptional instruction occurring for every student.

We sent out a letter to each parent in August. In that letter, we gave a synopsis of the attendance policy explaining that a parent note is an acceptable certification to explain illness up to five days. Once students exceed the five days, a certified note from a medical doctor, dentist or licensed psychologist may be needed.

During the first month and a half of school, every call, administrative interaction and teacher contact asked if parents had any questions about, if parents were aware of, or if parents understood the new attendance policy. At the Back to School Night meeting and the first Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting, we discussed the policy and heard parent concerns.

Additionally, we discussed the policy in the first school newsletter. Once a student reaches three days of absences, we send a letter to the parent reminding him of the school's policy and giving the opportunity to discuss what may or may not be a problem. At that point, we decide how we should handle future problems in light of the present situation.

We encourage parental input. Parents are asked to attend our PAC meetings scheduled for Feb. 3, March 3, April 7 and May 5. We need the support of parents to succeed.

Anyone having a problem with the policy should work with us so that we can continue to strengthen our efforts to do what is best for the students of Havre de Grace High School.

James J. Bennett

Havre de Grace

The writer is principal of Havre de Grace High School.

Enough Of 'Homicide'

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