On the issue of attendance, it's very clear. I believe that every student is entitled to an excellent education. Any policy that would render students invisible is not acceptable -- there have been proposals that would render the majority of students in a building invisible, proposals that would render the majority of students in a subgroup invisible.
While I accept that attendance is not solely the responsibility of educators, I reject the notion that educators do not contribute to student attendance.
I ran a school. I was a principal of a school in a very high-needs community. [King was founder and principal of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston.] We had systematic strategies to ensure students came to school. One was academic engagement, making sure students are learning and excited about learning. Two was reaching out to students' families and engaging them with the work that's going on in school, showing them why school matters for their children's future. But also being incredibly persistent about attendance. I would call relentlessly, go to students' homes -- do whatever it took to make sure that families saw the importance of having children come to school.
- Absences are excused at the discretion of the school leaders only in the case of a verified illness, religious observance, court appearance, or school-imposed disciplinary action (i.e., suspension).
- Immediately upon returning to school, each student must submit to the Office Manager a detailed note—signed by a parent or guardian—that verifies the date(s) of absence(s) and explains the reasons for the absence(s). Unless such a note is submitted the day of the student’s return to school, the absence(s) may be considered unexcused.
- Unexcused absences are never acceptable and may result in at least a .25% reduction in the student’s final grade for each class missed. More than three unexcused absences in a trimester may result in no credit and a zero percent average in each class for the trimester. More than seven unexcused absences in a school year may result in no credit for the year. A student may appeal his or her no-credit status to a Co-Director.
- It is incredibly important for students to arrive at school on time each day. Unexcused tardies are never acceptable. Three unexcused tardies may result in at least a .25% reduction in the student’s final grades.
- A student may be assigned disciplinary consequences, including demerits or detention, pursuant to the disciplinary code, for being tardy and/or for unexcused absences.
- A mandatory family meeting with the Director of Students and/or the School Leaders may be required for any student with 3 or more unexcused absences or tardies.
- Roxbury Prep may involve agencies, the police, the judicial system, and/or other authorities if a student is repeatedly late to or absent from school.
- A student who is absent is responsible for calling the Homework Hotline and submitting homework the day after s/he returns to school.
- A student who misses five or more consecutive days of school without notifying Roxbury Prep or who enrolls in another school is subject to being unenrolled at Roxbury Prep.
Last week, Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes told me the district would not be likely to adopt a policy again that sets a minimum bar for student attendance: "That was a policy that serves adults and not students. The district is not going to engage in that kind of reversal any more. I can't imagine a time when we would create a policy that punishes students for not attending school instead of looking at why they don't attend school and solving those problems.
"That policy created a scapegoat for student attendance problems. It blamed parents and families entirely. The district did not assume any of the responsibility, and that was wrong. When we create schools that engage students, attendance improves."
This week, Dixon told me that in 2005, when the policy was changed, it seemed to make sense to do away with a minimum attendance requirement.
"Kids weren't allowed to take Regents exams. The legality was, how can you stop a child from taking a Regents exam in New York State?" she said. "It was viewed as an obstacle to graduation. If attendance was keeping someone from getting course credit on a course they had passed, we weren't helping anyone move along."