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Superintendent withdraws plan to allow students with unexcused absences to make up work

Lacking support from the School Board, superintendent Kurt Browning this week withdrew his recommendation to allow students with unexcused absences to make up missed assignments.

Browning had proposed the change based on the work of a committee that spent months investigating the causes and possible solutions to student absenteeism. The group determined that many students have no incentive to attend, and that they also might not have control over their presence.

The important factor should be whether they learn, Browning said. He called for flexibility in how schools handle individual student issues.

Board members told him during a workshop they did not support any policy that could not be applied equally across the district. They also raised concerns about devaluing classroom teaching and learning if students could get full credit without going to class.

"I'm never going to buy into it," board Chairman Steve Luikart said of the idea. "I think if a kid skips school he shouldn't be able to make up his work. ... We preach getting these kids college, career and life ready. You tell me any one of those situations where attendance doesn't play a major part."

The idea is not totally dead, though.

The administration has a second committee in place to review grading practices, including the setting of high school grade-point averages. Its work, due in 2016, will help determine whether the makeup-work policy needs further change, deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said.

Until that point, students with excused absences will be able to make up missed work, as long as they request the material from their teachers within two class meetings after the absence.

REMEDIAL WORK: Ever since Florida made grade-level reading achievement a top priority, students with low scores on state reading exams have faced with dread an intensive remedial reading course. It takes the place of an elective course. And kids hate it.

This year, lawmakers gave school districts more flexibility in how they approach bringing students with low scores back up to speed.

The Pasco district has told principals that it still plans to use intensive reading courses, but that it will be making more individualized remediation decisions based on each student's performance data.

Some students might qualify for a good-cause exemption.

Steve Williams, director of teaching and learning, informed principals of the pending change in a recent memo.

"This process is currently being vetted by district leaders from a variety of departments to ensure smooth implementation," Williams wrote.

Once complete, he continued, schools should have a "streamlined process for considering if a student has data-supported cause for being removed from a reading course." This possibility would be reviewed in conversations between the school and parent, Williams wrote, "but a parent request alone would not be the sole reason for removal of reading support services."

Districts had been waiting for instructions from the Florida Department of Education before taking formal steps on their remedial programs. They got clarifications at a midweek meeting in Orlando.

NEW TOP COP: Pasco schools will get a new head resource officer for the 2015-16 academic year.

Lt. J.R. Law, who has held the position since January 2010, will become a District 3 patrol shift commander in the Pasco Sheriff's Office, effective June 8. Lt. Bill Davis, who held the District 3 post, will take over the resource officer's job.

The move coincides with the end of the school year.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

Superintendent withdraws plan to allow students with unexcused absences to make up work 05/20/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 6:42pm]
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