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School board agrees with fines for attendance policy

Sun Advocate publisher

Parents who don't send their kids to school or let their kids sluff may end up with more than just a call from the Carbon High attendance office next year.

They might up with a fine too.

Last Wednesday night the Carbon High administration approached the Carbon Board of Education in their regular monthly meeting and proposed a new attendance policy that would include fines for students who are habitually absent without excuses.

"We feel that this will make people think before they start being gone when they aren't supposed to," said Melissa Hamilton, the assistant principal at the school. "I think it will be effective."

Changes in attendance policies at schools are generally the work of the administration and don't need approval from the board, but because there are fines imposed within the policy the school approached the board for their blessing.

The new policy is very similar to the one that students at Helper Junior High have been working under for some time, but the fines are an additional incentive for students to go to class.

One of the problems that schools have is defining what various terms mean. For instance, when it comes to tardys, which is a part of the attendance policy, one teacher may interpret it to mean that the student is in the room when the bell rings. Another may think that it means the student is in his or her seat ready to start learning. The new policy says that the student should be in the classroom and in their seat.

"We will be working to get everyone on the same page with this new policy in terms of interpretation," said Hamilton.

Four definitions are spelled out in the policy.

•Tardy is defined as arriving to class after the bell has rung without an excuse from a school official or a physician.

•Truancy means that class or classes have been missed without a legitimate or school authority excuse.

•Excused absences will include doctor or dentist visits with the times and dates in which the student is seen or excused, therapy or counseling appointments with a written excuse from the therapist, juvenile court appointments with a written excuse from the court, documented chronic illnesses, death in the immediate family (not to exceed five days), crisis excused by the principal, school sponsored activities and up to 10 days per year of parent excused absences for illness or other necessary reasons.

"One of the things that will change is that parents will no longer be able to excuse their student after the fact," said Hamilton referring to parents calling days after an absence and excusing their kids for an illness. "They will need to call that day to make the excuse be legitimate."

The move for stronger attendance policies has been going on for the last few years because of the no child left behind act. Under that law schools must demonstrate a 93 percent attendance rate in all subcategories of students.

The fee schedule will be in affect if a student is found to be truant. That means excessive absences is the only way anyone would have to pay any money. The schedule begins with a $5 fine up to $20 after a fifth violation.

Some at the meeting wondered if the school could collect such fees.

"My husband is in a business in which we collect fines," said board member Debbie Blackburn. "It's easy to assess a fine, but collecting it is another thing."

However, once a student gets deep enough into the system where fees need to be assessed they are often soon after involved in the program that deals with the juvenile court because of their truancy. If that happens then the judge can help the school go after the fines.

Hamilton emphasized that the fines are not meant for the student with legitimate reasons for missing school or even those that miss once in a while. The program is there to get the attention of the student who is habitually absent.

The board approved the fine schedule at the meeting after moving it as an agenda item from the discussion level to the action part of the program.

Hamilton said that the school will be scheduling meetings with the various classes and their parents to explain the new policy. One of those meetings is scheduled for May 23 at 6 p.m. at Carbon High.

The board also heard from a couple of angry parents about a change in school assignments concerning their children.

"I got a letter in the mail telling me that the district was going to move my daughter from Creekview and it appeared there was no concern for what we felt about the situation," Chad McCance told the board.

"I was really upset about the way it came down to me. After I saw it I left message at the district office to have someone call me about it and I have not heard a thing from anyone."

Rod and Dixie Andrew also reported that they had received a similar letter with no contact or discussion about the situation either.

"Now we will have two kids in two different schools and no one ever asked us a thing about it," said Mr. Andrew. "No one will talk with us."

Board president Grady McEvoy told the three that he would look into the situation and try to find a resolution to it.

In another item concerning Mont Harmon Junior High School's theater arts program, the district, because of a change in teaching personnel had decided to end the classes taught in theater arts after this year. Superintendent David Armstrong said that because of a new hire at the school for next year, an instructor with a masters degree in theater arts, the classes will continue to be taught next year.

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