Saugus School Committee cracking down on attendance of students and staff

SAUGUS — Some School Committee members think it’s time to take attendance — for students and for staff.

The committee asked the policy subcommittee to propose a new attendance policy for students at a meeting last week. The request comes one month after discussing policy revisions for teachers. One source of frustration was the idea that students are spending learning time sitting in cafeterias with substitutes, rather than in a classroom.

A first draft of the policy, which the subcommittee may alter, states that “the accumulation of both excused and unexcused absences may cause a student to not receive credit towards graduation, even with an earned passing grade.”

The threshold for the determination is 20 or more absences, excused or unexcused, for a year-long course or 10 or more from a semester course.

Excused student absences include an illness with parental or medical documentation, bereavement or serious illness in the family, observance of major religious holidays, court appearances, college or military visits, and school activities previously approved by the administration, according to the proposal.

Among other reasons, unexcused absences include family vacations, oversleeping, and missing a ride to school.

At an earlier meeting, School Committee member Liz Marchese argued that if students are expected to be there, so should their teachers.

“When I’m hearing children are spending hours upon hours in cafeterias, it’s got to go both ways,” Marchese said. “If we’re going to hold our children accountable, then we also have to hold our educators accountable.”

“If you feel like you’re going to be sitting in a cafeteria all day, I’m going to be honest with you, as an adult, I’d want to be home,” Marchese said.  

Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi said Saugus, along with the rest of the state, is facing a substitute shortage, which is why the students often end up in large groups in one spot.

As of Jan. 1, the School Department raised the daily rate for substitutes from $70 to $80 in an effort to attract more people for the job. Being a substitute requires only an associate degree, not a bachelor’s, in education, said DeRuosi.

According to a set of guidelines on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website, temporary substitute teachers “can be employed for less than 90 consecutive school days in the same role. Any educator who is employed on a temporary basis for more than 90 consecutive school days in the same role must either be licensed for the role or working under a hardship waiver.”

Chairwoman Jeannie Meredith said that parents would argue that substitutes who are not qualified to teach shouldn’t be giving lessons.

“If it’s not a real teacher giving the curriculum, how is the grade going to be credited?” Meredith said.

Committee member Mark Magliozzi argued that hiring a substitute should be more than just having someone present.

“It should not just be having someone there but having some substance,” he said. “I think it’s a policy that we need to look into. That’s what it comes down to.”

A proposed appeal process for students would be conducted through a hearing in front of an appeal board made up of one teacher and one administrator.

Also under the proposed policy, students dismissed before or admitted after 10:50 a.m. would be considered absent for the day. Students must be in school by 7:45 a.m. to participate in extracurricular activities and every three tardies after 7:45 a.m. would count as an absence.

The policy subcommittee of the School Committee will discuss the proposed policy and make a recommendation to the full committee. The full committee will then either accept the policy or send it back for revisions, said Meredith.

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