The agenda was small, but a number of the main items discussed among the board members were part of WCS Director Donna Wright’s report.
Among them was a new state law that discussed chronic absenteeism, including senior attendance and kindergarten attendance and sporting events.
A main point that was brought out by the new state legislation – which updated the state attendance manual around Thanksgiving – was that seniors who graduate before the end of the year, must still attend school until the end of the year.
Wright said for some smaller school districts, with one high school, not fighting for graduation space, it is not hard to set a graduation date after the end of the school year. However, for a district the size of Wilson County, they fight for a space to hold graduations. That means that students graduate a week or so before the end of the school year.
“That doesn’t even make sense that they would hold schools hostage and keep students in schools after they have completed all of their assignments and everything that they’ve met. But they’re looking at that 180 days of instruction. It’s getting so complex. I want this board to understand. We have to find a way to take care of our kids and particularly when you have to look at kids in kindergarten, kids in the 504 plan and kids in IEP. When you ask the Department of Education right now, we’re not getting any answers.”
Schools will be judged by that state on an A-F scale based on the students excused or unexcused absences. Still, more than 18 absences during a school year, makes the student a chronic absentee.
“It doesn’t matter if you go to the doctor, have a broken leg or whatever,” said Stan Moss, Attendance Director for WCS. “The State Department of Education is focusing on students missing classroom instruction in front of teachers which will raise the academics of the students.”
He added that all students in all grades, from kindergarten through 12th grade must have 180 days of instruction. One of the stickling points in that, according to Wright, is the way kindergarten students will now be forced into class.
“For some of them it’s the first time they’ve socialized in a large group,” she said. “This is going to be difficult for them.”
In the past, the children have been staggered so not all of them show up on the same day, Wright said.
Moss said at this point, WCS allows parents to have 10 excused absences of their children per year, five per semester. In addition, there are five principal-discretion excused absences.
“We’re going to have to take a look at that,” he said.
Moss added that his staff has developed a “chronic absence letter” for the medically affected children.
“The students have a medically identified need and it’s been very tough,” he said. “I know this. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the best way to provide an education to a student. Whether it be through a brick and mortar school, or through TVOLS, or some fashion of part of one or the other. It takes some time. It also creates more stress. We’re trying to be understanding, but also know our feet are being held to the fire.”
Wright added that everyone needs to know that information because of the “magnitude is one that districts are reeling from. It’s going to carry a strong weight, and there’s a lack of understanding particularly about those who are doing their best to come to school and would come to school if they could make it, is almost being seen as if we’re not doing our part to get them there.”
Moss said WCS is “going to work to make sure it’s successful for our kids. We’re going to be bringing some proposals for policies that are specific to these items. This is something that we’re living with now. It’s here.”