If you're a Pinellas County public school student, you may have heard by now: Absenteeism will not be tolerated this school year.
"We expect them to be in school on time, every day, in every class," superintendent Julie Janssen said during Tuesday night's School Board meeting, promising a hard-line approach in 2010-11.
But any new stricter rules likely won't be approved by the Pinellas School Board until Sept. 14, three weeks after school starts.
That's because such a change requires two public hearings with 28 days between them. The first hearing was Tuesday, making Aug. 24 — the first day of classes and election day for school board candidates — the earliest possible date for a second hearing.
So the board decided to discuss the changes during an Aug. 17 workshop, inform families and teachers about the planned changes via e-mail and automated phone calls, and schedule a vote for September.
Average daily attendance in 2009-10 dipped almost 3 percent in Pinellas high schools from 92.2 percent to 89.2 percent thanks largely to a loosened rule that allowed A and B students to exempt final exams no matter their absentee record.
Janssen wants to allow such exemptions as long as a student hasn't racked up five or more unexcused absences.
Board attorney Jim Robinson suggested changing that to one. "In other words, we're not going to give them five freebees," said Robinson, who favors eliminating the exemption altogether.
But board members didn't seem to bite.
Bob Cobb, a Dunedin High School teacher, suggested three unexcused absences. Board member Carol Cook said that sounded like a reasonable compromise.
Among the other changes on the table:
• Any student would be counted absent if he or she is not present in class for at least half of the class period. To be counted as "present" for the day, students must be in attendance for at least one-half of the class periods during the day.
• Tardy students will not be excused if they oversleep, miss the bus, go shopping, take "pleasure trips," experience car problems, encounter heavy traffic or return home for forgotten items. Additionally, three unexcused tardies within a grading period equals an unexcused absence.
• 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.
On Tuesday, Cobb appealed to the board for a timely decision: "I hope the policy is in force, whatever it may be, on Aug. 24."
Brandt Robinson, also a Dunedin High teacher, stressed the need to get teacher and parent feedback.
Robinson asked Janssen to send out an automated survey to teachers before signing off on a final policy that teachers need to enforce.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.