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Absent? Tardy? Think again! Pinellas superintendent proposes harder line attendance policies



Get out your gradebooks, teachers. Things might be different this year!

In answer to outcry from district teachers, Pinellas County superintendent Julie Janssen has proposed a series of attendance policy changes that could put the fire under more kids to get themselves to school.

Among the proposals:

• High school students who have an A or B in the first, second and third six-week grading periods could be exempted from taking their final exams only if they haven't had five or more unexcused absences from any class. (Students who have excessive absences can now exempt their final exams if they keep their grades up.)

• That same high school exam exemption would be scrapped if the final exam is considered the new state-required end-of-course exam; if the student has been in the district for less than an entire school term; or if the student is taking a two-semester course and hasn't taken a final exam already.

• Students would be counted absent if they are not present in class for at least half of the class period. To be counted as "present" for the day, the student must be in attendance for at least half the class periods during the day.

• Unexcused tardies include: oversleeping, missing the bus, going shopping, pleasure trips, car problems, heavy traffic and returning home for forgotten items.

• Every three unexcused tardies within a grading period equals an unexcused absence. Schools can add additional penalties for tardiness.

• Students are eligible for an excused absence, tardy or early sign-out only for the following reasons: illness or injury; death or major illness in the immediate family; religious holiday or instruction; court summons, order or subpoena; medical or dental appointment; participation in a special public event, conference, state or national competition (with principal permission required five days before the absence); or communicable disease such as head lice.

• Unexcused early sign-outs include: forgotten items, dress code violation and noneducational appointments.

• Every three unexcused sign-outs in a grading period equals an unexcused absence.

• Make-up work is allowed for all absences, excused and unexcused. But if a student has an unexcused absence, make-up work must be completed within a time-frame established by the teacher and the student can be docked a letter grade for the work in elementary and middle school — and will be docked a letter grade for the work in high school. If a student is completing make-up work after a suspension, the work must be completed on the day they return to school. And under a suspension the same rules apply for grading the work: in elementary and middle school, the teacher may dock the student's work a letter grade, while in high school, the teacher must dock it a letter grade.

• The determination of a high school student's "mastery" of a subject — required for course credit — would no longer be based on "teacher observations, class assignments and examinations.'' Instead, it would be granted only if a student receives "a passing final semester grade."

Fonda Huff, a high school academic coach and candidate running for the District 2 School Board seat, has spent much of her campaign talking about Pinellas County's attendance policy. She said she was relieved to hear that change might be coming.

"That's much better,'' she said, "They're finally getting some accountability."

Pinellas School Board members are expected to discuss Janssen's recommendations during their meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, with a second public hearing expected on Sept. 14, said Allen Mortimer, director of planning and policy for the district.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:19pm]


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