School takes tough stance

Absent students and their parents, could face legal penalties

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Every now and then, some people enjoy the occasional day of hooky a day when the weather seems impossibly nice, there are no major assignments or projects due and the pull to enjoy a day of leisure cannot be ignored.

Until now, there wasn't much the school district could do if those days of hooky started to add up too quickly, and students who missed significant amounts of school had absences excused by their parents.

At Monday's Moffat County School District Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously approved an excessive absence policy. The policy gives school administrators a tool to deal with students who miss a substantial amount of the school year, but have those absences excused, which used to prohibit the school from acting.

"We won't be handling absences any different than what we've done in the past, except now this policy allows us to pursue the chronic, excessive absentee with some teeth built into our system," said Pete Bergmann, principal of Ridgeview Elementary school. "We can have our records system spit out attendance numbers at any time, so when a child's attendance drops below 90 percent, we red flag them, and if the child begins to miss more than 15 percent of school to that date, we can begin moving through the steps of the policy to address the problem."

The policy has five steps the district would move through as it looks at a potential problem. The first step is to bring the teacher, student, parent and principal to a conference to discuss the reasons for the excessive absences.

Should the absences continue, a letter is sent to the parent or guardian.

If that doesn't solve the problem, a meeting with the parent, teachers, principal, counselor, and school resource officer will be held to address the student's excessive absences.

If the problem continues, a Joint Agency Intervention (JAI) meeting will be held. The JAI would consist of representatives of all the local agencies needed to address each particular situation, such as social services, the police department, the courts, the school in question and others as need dictates.

Finally, if the excessive absences still have not declined, the courts would step in and initiate actions to compel the parent to put the child in school.

"There are maybe a dozen kids each year where excessive absences are a problem. This policy will be rarely used, that's my gut feeling," Bergmann said. "If the reasons for a particular child missing a lot of time are legit, that'll show up in this process, either in step three, or if it goes that far, the judge or the agencies that are involved can make the call if the school or the parents are right about [whether the absence is] excused."

The policy can be initiated by either excessive excused absences or the regular guidelines concerning unexcused absences, which state a student should have no more than four unexcused absences in a month or 10 unexcused in a year.

"If we have a student who is missing 30 percent of the school year, but those days are listed as excused, we have no way dealing with that," said Archie Neil, director of special education and student services. "If it's a medical reason, or another legitimate cause, we'll see that, and won't need to go through the whole process. But if not, we can have some way to get the kids in school.

"Hopefully, that'll happen before we have to go all the way through the process and involve the courts."

The Board had some questions concerning the language of the policy, and how tardiness and unexcused absences are dealt with, plus how the courts would function with the school district. After these issues were addressed, the board unanimously passed the policy pending grammatical changes.

In other business, the board

Recognized the 14 members of the girls track team, the four members of the boys track team, the 11 members of the boys swim team and two members of the girls golf team that had qualified for state or performed well at district competitions.

Recognized the Booster Club for its work and donations of speakers for the high school gym and new track warm-up suits.

Approved Ben Bye's request that $3,682.56 in unused sick time be paid to him. The board recognized Bye for only missing six days in 28 years of service as a teacher.

Heard Burkie Wynkoop's presentation concerning the district's policy, which doesn't allow for a coach's experience to be recognized when being hired to coach another sport and that experience should be compensated for financially.

"Coaching is coaching, and the experience and knowledge of athletics should be recognized," Wynkoop said.

The board generally supported Wynkoop's position, and Superintendent of Schools Duane Wrightson will make a proposal for change at the next meeting.

Reviewed a capital spending wish list.

"We need to establish what we have to have, because the amount for capital improvements is not enough to cover all these improvements," Wrightson said. The district has $492,000 for capital improvements in the budget. A public referendum is a possibility for more funds if the board and district think that is necessary.

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