(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
The change came, in part, as the student services office was seeing an increasing number of students being late or absent for school.
"We have 10 students in one elementary school alone, with over 30 tardies for the past school year," said Terry Looper, supervisor of student services.
In that school, one student had 69 late arrivals, closely followed by another who racked up 62, and another had 59. In all, those students were late for school for one-third of class days. School administrators have been told by parents that they "just can't make it to school on time," or worse, "school isn't really conducive to my schedule."
Starting this school year, tardies and early checkouts will accumulate into days absent, with five unexcused tardies and/or early checkouts equaling one day of an un-excused absence. In the examples above, those students will have 12 or 13 days counted as absent this school year.
Administrators and instructional staff have the responsibility of keeping test scores high, but in public events this year Looper has called on parents to be more accountable for their child's education. "It's important we have kids in school all the time."
Regarding unexcused absences from school, the policy for elementary and secondary students differs slightly. For K-5 students, any child with five unexcused absences will be reported to the attendance supervisor by school administration, the school shall send a certified letter notifying parents, and further absences and will be monitored by Looper's office.
When that student reaches seven un-excused absences, the office will make a referral for mediation with a school social worker. At 10 un-excused absences, the elementary student's parents will be called to a Truancy Board meeting, with a warrant being served on the parent(s) if the situation is not rectified.
The new rules are similar, but tougher, on secondary school students and their parents.
In grades 6-12, a letter will be sent home for any student with five un-excused absences. At 10 un-excused absences, a petition from juvenile court will be filed against the student, or a warrant filed against the parent or guardian.
"An absence will be considered excused if the student brings a doctor's note or a note from a parent. Students who are absent are un-excused until such time as they bring in an appropriate note excusing the absence," reads the revised policy.
The district will require an excuse from a certified medical doctor after seven absences.
This and other changes in the District's attendance policy are intended to fortify enforcement of school attendance, especially for students of legal age.
Students age 18 and older do not fall under the state's compulsory attendance law.
The policy also added language for student-drivers, tying grades and attendance to driving privileges. "Any student fifteen (15) years of age or older who becomes academically deficient or deficient in attendance shall be reported to the Department of Safety for driver's license revocation," states the policy.
Students may be deemed academically deficient if they fail three full subjects at the end of semester grading. Students will also be reported to the Tennessee Department of Safety when they drop out of school before age 18 or when they have 10 consecutive or 15 days total unexcused absenses during a single semester. Out of school suspensions are considered unexcused absenses.
At a back-to-school event in May Looper told students, "Part of my job is to make sure you are in school until you are 18. If you don't go to school, there are consequences for you and for your parents."