School attendance should not be optional. But that's what it became for many Pinellas County public students last year after the School Board relaxed attendance rules to compensate for the swine flu outbreak. Now superintendent Julie Janssen is proposing putting some teeth back into the attendance policy. It's a reasonable step that ultimately should improve student performance.
Across the district, teachers said student attendance plummeted last year when the district removed attendance requirements as a factor in whether students earning A's or B's would qualify to be exempt from exams.
But it wasn't just A and B students who were less concerned about getting to school. Others whose grades would not qualify them for exam exemptions stayed away as well, leading to classrooms that were sometimes half empty. And students who made it to school often arrived for class late or skipped out early, interrupting instruction. It should be obvious that students who aren't in class are less likely to master the material.
Now Janssen wants to adopt specific rules about counting attendance, including:
• Students must be in class for at least half the class period to be counted "present."
• They must stay in school for at least half the day's class periods to be counted "present" for the day.
• Few excuses for tardiness will be accepted, and each three unexcused tardies in a grading period will equal one unexcused absence.
• High school students who have an A or B in a class during each semester's three grading periods can exempt the final exam, but only if they have no more than four unexcused absences during the semester.
Some may bristle at the specificity or lack of flexibility Janssen is proposing. But last year's experiment shows a clear message is needed for some students and their parents: Students are expected to show up every day ready to learn. Janssen's proposal, which the School Board will begin discussing Tuesday, properly ties attendance to student performance.