Saugus addresses school absenteeism

SAUGUS — The School Committee is addressing a problem that leaves some students racking up more than 100 absences before getting to middle school.

The policy subcommittee of School Committee has drafted a proposal to revise the existing attendance policy at the middle and high school that would lower the number of allowed absences and implement consequences for tardies.

“There are kids coming into middle school carrying 100 absences — some 120 or 130,” said Linda Gaieski, who chairs the policy subcommittee of the School Committee. “If you’re not in school, you can’t learn.”

The policy, which the subcommittee is asking the panel to approve, states that “the accumulation of both excused and unexcused absences may cause a student to not receive credit toward 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.

“The old policy allows approximately 40,” said Gaieski. “We cut it in half. It was absurd.”

There are 180 school days in a year, she said.

Students who arrive after the start of school would be considered tardy and would need to sign in at the office to receive a hall pass before going to class. Upon a student’s fourth tardy to school in one quarter, he or she would be sentenced to detention, also called an office session, for the length of a class period at the end of the day. For each subsequent tardy, the student would be assigned an additional office session. Every three tardies after 7:45 a.m. will count as an absence, unless a medical note is provided. Students who arrive 20 minutes after the bell has rung also need to bring a note from a parent stating they are aware of the tardy. The note does not excuse the late arrival.

In the policy subcommittee meeting, Athletic Director Terri Pillsbury suggested adding that students deemed too sick to stay in school by the nurse would be ineligible for participation in athletics and other extracurricular activities that day.

“I’m not playing that game,” she said.  

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.

Gaieski and Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi agreed they would also ask the School Committee to address attendance at the elementary level.

“It’s not something that starts at the secondary level,” said Gaieski.

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