On Monday night, the North Middlesex Regional School District School Committee conducted a second reading of revisions to the high-school attendance policy. No votes were taken. The draft of the policy was sent back to the policy subcommittee with suggested feedback, to be reevaluated and brought back to the School Committee at a later date.
The committee’s primary feedback was to create a district-wide attendance policy and stipulate specific details in each school’s respective handbook. The idea was suggested by Superintendent Joan Landers as a way to clarify some gray zones in the policy that were up for discussion.
According to the draft of the revised policy, under Massachusetts General Law, “if a child is absent for seven days or 14 half-days within any period of six months, the school is required to take appropriate action which could include referrals to child protection and/or juvenile court (if applicable).”
The drafted revision states that to maintain compliance with the law, any student absent for more than six class periods in a semester or three in a quarter will not receive any credit for that class.
But School Committee member Randee Rusch said, “There’s still a lot of ambiguity in what the law is actually saying.” Additionally, she said, the law does not distinguish between truant absences and exempt absences, such as death in the family, medical problems, legal issues or religious holidays.
“The exempt absences are muddying the waters on what the law is trying to tell us,” Rusch said.
Student representative Kyle Edmonds, who had conducted a survey among the student council, said opinions were split about credit for classes being revoked due to absences. Where half the council thought the stipulation seemed fair, he said, half felt it was unreasonable for an “A” student to lose credit.
“(They felt) an ‘A’ student should be able to make up the credit,” he said.
School Committee member Robert Templeton said he felt the policy was directly trying to deal with truant absences as opposed to excused but non-exempt absences, and should be worded to express that.
“I know we’re really not trying to deal with Johnny taking vacation,” he said. “I think (the section on truancy) needs to be toughened up a little bit.”
In other business, the student service-learning groups are preparing for several community service projects to aid not only the local community but people all around the world. Several students presented to the School Committee about their upcoming projects. The New Orleans Service Learning Group is fundraising for their annual trip to New Orleans to continue helping the city rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The Philadelphia Service Learning Group is preparing for a similar trip to Philadelphia to volunteer with local charitable organizations. Within the local community, the groups also harvest vegetables out of a community garden in the school’s courtyard to donate to PACH Outreach and host a variety of fundraisers, including a pizza night, the proceeds of which go to help fund schools in various countries in need.
School Committee members showed enormous support for the efforts to the service-learning groups.
Committee member Anne Adams said, “To choose to give back to the community says so much about who you are,” especially for students that had several competing interests and opportunities.
The committee adjourned into executive session to discuss a contract regarding nonunion personnel, specifically crossing guards. They did not return to open session.