Howard educators warn students of skip-day consequences

February 11, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

Senior skip days are seen by some as a right of passage for teens. But with the importance that attendance plays in school funding and assessments, and the skills that are taught during the last year of high school, many educators are warning their students against skipping school.

On Monday - as predicted - some seniors at area high schools followed a nationally organized trend and skipped school. Some school officials sent home letters condemning the practice.

Attendance is a major component in a school's achieving adequate yearly progress, or AYP, the performance yardstick under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Howard County Sun incorrectly reported that Reservoir High School did not respond to requests for attendance data Feb. 5, a day when some seniors skipped school. Reservoir reported that 19 seniors were absent. The Sun regrets the error.

In addition to attendance, AYP is determined by standardized tests scores and is used, among other things, to determine whether parents can transfer their children to higher-performing schools. It also can affect federal funding.

"A lot of seniors have already gotten their [college] acceptance letters and feel that they don't have to go to school," said Howard schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "[But senior year] is the foundation for their college work. A lot takes place in one day in the high school curriculum."

Some principals were tipped off the week before - through students and social networking Web sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com - and sent letters to parents to try to thwart the skip day. In some instances, the letters did not work.

Howard High School, which sent letters warning students against skipping, had 81 of 305 seniors skip school Monday. Mount Hebron had 60 of 400 and Atholton had 32 of 297.

Hammond High School reported that 42 seniors were absent, a 13 percent rate.

"It is definitely higher than normal," said Hammond Assistant Principal Marty Vandenberge. "But it being as cold as it was after the Super Bowl, it wasn't way out of whack."

Vandenberge said he was not aware of the skip campaign on the Internet.

Glenelg reported 30 absent seniors, and Centennial and River Hill noticed higher-than-usual numbers of absent seniors.

Wilde Lake reported no change in attendance among seniors.

Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Reservoir did not respond to requests for attendance data. Marriotts Ridge, which opened in 2005, does not have seniors.

Schools that had less than 10 percent of the total population absent did not have to report their attendance data to the system's central office, Caplan said.

The absences at Atholton prompted the school's administration to send letters to parents.

"We are missing quite a few seniors today, supposedly for a `senior cut day,' " the letter reads. "Please be aware that this is an unexcused absence from school, and students are not permitted to make up any work they miss for an unexcused absence. If your student made this poor choice, please do not support it by writing an absence note that would legitimate the absence."

In Harford County, officials said they realize that senior skip day is regarded by some as a right of passage, but it is an illegal absence nonetheless.

Seniors in Harford usually pick a date at random for skip day closer to graduation, said Don Morrison, spokesman for the county schools.

"We worry about our seniors, and an idle day like this can be an invitation to disaster," Morrison said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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