Carroll County gets tough on frequent school absences

July 15, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Beginning this fall, Carroll County high school students who are absent too often might not receive credit for their classes, even with passing grade-point averages.

The new regulation -- an attempt by administrators to crack down on students who miss weeks of school with impunity -- was announced yesterday at the Board of Education's monthly meeting. High school principals will review the new rule during the summer, but are likely to implement it in the fall, administrators said.

Under the rule, which applies to excused and unexcused absences, a student missing five or more days during any nine-week marking period will be given an "F" in all courses unless the student makes up all work and passes the midterm or final exam, given at the end of the nine weeks.

In the past, students were able to miss school frequently, not make up the work, fail the final exam, and still pass a class if other scores in the class brought the grade to a passing level.

"We didn't have any teeth to say, `If you don't come to school, you can fail,' " said Cynthia Little, supervisor of pupil services.

The new regulation marks the first time the school system has had a districtwide policy on the issue.

The regulation makes no explicit exception for excused absences, even because of long-term illness. However, the board will publish a statement in the regulation guaranteeing that the rights of students with disabilities or special needs will be protected. The regulation, school administrators said, chiefly targets students who take "vacations."

Attendance was previously handled by each high school on a case-by-case basis. In some instances, students missing too many days were failed. In many others, the failing grade was no more than an empty threat. Only students whose absences were unexcused could be punished.

Randy Clark, principal at Liberty High School, said he did not fail a single student last year solely for absenteeism. In part, he said, that was because he felt making a distinction between excused and unexcused absences was too dependent on parental honesty.

Students could get away with being absent if their parents reported the absence as legitimate, while other students could be disciplined.

"We ended up punishing the honest ones," said Clark, who served on the Attendance Committee that drafted the new regulation. "And we heard time and again from parents that it put them in a difficult position."

Clark's committee reported that last year, 10 percent of high school students in the county missed at least five days of school the first quarter; 18 percent in the second quarter; and 20 percent in the third quarter. Fourth-quarter statistics were not available.

Clark stressed that even students who exceed the five absences under the new rule will have an incentive to stay in class because they can help avoid a failing grade by doing well on the final exam.

In other business, the Board of Education voted to move construction of a fine arts addition at South Carroll High School up by one year.

Under the new schedule, planning would take place in 1999-2000 and construction would begin in 2000-2001.

Board member Susan Krebs complained that the school has limited art and music space and an inadequate auditorium.

"It's a very pathetic situation," she said. "This is to me a desperate need."

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