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Hookey could lead to students being held back

by Andy Bourelle, Staff Writer

Douglas County students who are absent more than 10 percent of the school year may be considered for retention in upcoming years, if the school board adopts a change in the attendance policy at its next monthly meeting.

The Douglas County School District Board of Trustees will be looking at a second reading of the new attendance policy, which will outline a few differences from the current policy, including how many days students can miss throughout the year and at one time. Also, the district’s policy on truancy has been defined more specifically in the new policy.

“The intent is pretty much the same – that students should be in school,” said John Soderman, assistant superintendent of education services. “To just send assignments home for students is not school.”

The 1997 Legislature passed several laws regarding school attendance, and Soderman said the new policy is an attempt to address those laws. While the laws give parents the ability to take their children out of school for unspecified reasons, laws also emphasize attendance as a priority.

n Absences throughout year. The proposed policy requires students on a traditional calendar to be required to attend 162 of 180 days, 158 of 176 on a multi-track calendar or 90 percent of the time the student is enrolled if he or she is not enrolled the entire year.

Consistent with the school district’s strategic plan, Soderman said, the district emphasizes employability. In a career, employees would not be permitted to miss work numerous times.

“We’re trying to stress employability, and you’re not really employable if you miss 18 days of work,” Soderman said. “It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, your employer will be a whole lot less than satisfied. The idea is that being gone 10 percent of the time is a lot. It’s a lot in business, and it should be a lot in school.”

n Absences during a specific time period. To try to keep students enrolled, Soderman said the district has looked at absences in three ways – unavoidable, prearranged and unexcused.

Regarding unavoidable absences, such as illness, a death in the family or an emergency medical situation, the school district allows students the number of days they were absent, plus one day, to make up their work.

For prearranged absences, which can be for a variety of reasons, students are permitted to be gone 10 days at one time, and they will receive 85 percent credit for the work. If students are gone more than 10 days at a time, the district is required by law to un-enroll them. If and when they return, the students are re-enrolled like they are new students and not required to cover the material they missed.

The current school policy allows only five days for prearranged absences, but it has no specific policy on what should be done if students miss more.

For unexcused absences, such as truancy, suspensions, absences without notification and tardies, students can receive a maximum of 75 percent credit.

n Truancy. The school district has had a truancy review board for several years, Soderman said, but the new attendance policy outlines a more specific definition of what happens, step by step, as students are truant from school.

By the third time, students are considered habitual truants. By the fourth time, they must go before a truancy review board – made up of the parent, a site administrator, the school district’s attendance officer, the student, a Douglas County juvenile probation officer and possibly representatives from Douglas County Child and Family Services, the sheriff’s office and district attorney’s office. At that stage, a student can lose certain school privileges, be fined $100, be placed on probation and more.

By the fifth time, the Douglas County Juvenile Probation Office will be contacted each time the student is truant from school. Students who reach this stage will be considered habitual truants until they have completed one school year with no truancies and 95 percent, or better, attendance.

n Meeting. The Douglas County School District Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. at Kingsbury Middle School in Zephyr Cove.

Other items on the agenda include a public hearing on the district’s 1998-99 budget, a first reading on revisions to the board’s policy on staff dress and grooming, accountability reports for the 1996-97 school year and more.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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