Rock Springs, Wyoming – The Sweetwater School District No. 1 Board of Trustee Wednesday evening approved an attendance policy change, moving the number of excused absences a student can have during a semester from 10 to five, with no reason required.
The trustees unanimously approved the policy changes, which also included a change to graduation requirements. The district will now offer a general diploma for those students who may find it difficult to earn the required 24 credits to graduate. A general diploma can be attained with 18 credits, but a student will not qualify for any level of the Hathaway scholarship on this diploma track.
Trustee John Bettolo noted the policy changes were developed as a direct intervention from Rock Springs High School and was brought to the policy committee. The changes were created in an attempt to address the chronic truancy problems in the district and most notably at the high school.
Other changes to the attendance policy include:
- A student who accrues five unexcused absences will be subject to an intervention and a conference will be scheduled with the student and the student’s parents or guardian. If an intervention is not successfully completed, the student will be referred to the board as a habitual truant, as required by state statute.
- Students will no longer be given a zero grade for each class or activity missed as a result of an unexcused absence or truancy. Students will be required to make up the work as defined in the Student/Parent Handbook.
- In grades 9-12, eight unexcused absences will result in the student not earning credit in the identified course(s), unless the student qualifies for a credit appeal process. If a student is granted an appeal, an incomplete is recorded for the letter grade and the student must then choose an intervention option – Saturday school, winter school, after school program, peer tutor, counselor support or credit recovery – to make up the grade.
- School-sponsored absences and medically-excused absences will not count against a student. Additionally, non-school sanctioned activities, such as hockey and dance studio activities, will not count against a student if the student meets the same eligibility criteria as school-sanctioned activities.
Human Resource Director Nicole Bolton said options are also available for chronically-ill or medically fragile students.
Bolton joined RSHS Principal Annie Fletcher to detail the policy changes prior to the board vote. Bolton admitted the district is challenged with its attendance rate, and the changes were made so the district could be preventative and proactive rather than reactive in dealing with its truancy problem.
“There is no substitute for being in the instructional setting with a teacher,” Fletcher said.
They offered some disturbing figures to support the need for the change. Fletcher said the number of instruction hours missed at RSHS during the 2019 spring semester totaled 119,087; 37,552 hours were due to unverified absences and 31,964 hours were excused.
Also recorded were the number of students listed as chronic unexcused absentees during the spring semester: 14 students accrued 70+ hours of unexcused absences, 32 accrued 60+, 65 had 50+, 138 had 40+, 286 had 30+, 580 had 20+ and 1,340 accrued 10+ hours.
Trustee Matthew Jackman asked how the district plans to deal with parent who choose not to be involved in making sure their child is in school when they need to be. Fletcher said the district can provide a surrogate in these cases.
“We are not about trying to control families. We are trying to make students successful in school,” Bolton said. “They need to be in school.”
Bolton and Fletcher stressed parents need to be responsible and make education a priority for the sake of their children, especially since most jobs nowadays will not hire a person without a diploma or GED.
The parents who offered public comment had a concern about illness-caused absences negatively affecting a student’s grade. Bolton assured parents the district does not expect parents to send a sick child to school, and options are available for chronically-ill students. However, she added she did not condone parents who drop off their child late to school just so that they could get a coffee in the morning or pick them up early so they could avoid a line of cars at the end of the school day.
To see the attendance changes in their entirety, go to www.sweetwater1.org and click on the board meeting notice. The board packet contained Policy JED.