Saturday, December 15, 2007

Towards an Effective School Attendance Policy

While this is my first entry for some time, I would like to continue discussing school attendance policies. In my last post I suggested that schools and boards rarely have the stomach to implement and enforce meaningful policies for a myriad of reasons. Today I would like to look at one from the past that was quite effective.

When I taught in Manitoba, I was fortunate to work for a division that eventually developed a policy that was stringent yet fair and, for the most part, enforced. While many years have elapsed since that time, if memory serves me, a letter was sent home after 3 absences advising the parents of our policies and the importance of regular attendance, etc. After five or six absences, the student was given a detention, and ultimately, if he or she accrued ten, an appearance before a principal/vice- principal, board member, teacher and superintendent was mandatory. At this meeting, the truant had to explain why he/she should be allowed to continue in the course, after which a contract was drawn up which permitted no more than two more absences, no matter what the reason. While you might think that this was a cumbersome, draconian and time-consuming process, the truth is that such meetings and contracts were rare, owing to the fact that when they were violated, the student was removed from the course and placed in study hall for that period every day. In other words, this policy had teeth, and almost no one ever violated the contract.

Despite its success, I remember one time when one of my students violated the contract and I had every expectation that he would be removed. After talking with his father, who felt I was being grossly unfair, despite the fact that it was his son who had skipped class, I received a call from the Superintendent. He had spoken to the father and suggested that this was a time when we should show some compassion; I responded that there were no mitigating circumstances whatsoever, and not to enforce the contract was to essentially render it meaningless. Being both young and rash, I also told him he would have my resignation if he didn’t support me on this (a career-limiting move, as they say). After I talked to him, I then phoned a trustee that I knew fairly well, told him the situation and asked for his support.

The outcome was that the Superintendent was overruled by the board, and the lad was removed from my class. Needless to say, relations with the Superintendent were ‘frosty’ from that point onward. Yet for me, the gamble was worth it, as I have always believed that educational integrity has to be practiced on all levels, from the top down. Without it, we really stand for nothing but expedience, which serves no one.

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