Excessive student absences need attention, Pasco School Board says

The issue is more important to teachers than whether the absence is excused, vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin contends.
Pasco County School Board members discuss revisions to the proposed 2019-20 student code of conduct with staff during an April 2, 2019, workshop. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Pasco County School Board members discuss revisions to the proposed 2019-20 student code of conduct with staff during an April 2, 2019, workshop. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published April 17, 2019|Updated April 17, 2019

For weeks, the Pasco County School Board has discussed whether it should allow students with unexcused absences to make up missed school work.

On Tuesday, board vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin suggested the question might be misdirected.

When asking teachers about the makeup work issue, Beaudoin said, several had greater concerns about students with excessive absences than whether the students should be allowed to complete their assignments. Some children are falling far behind, she suggested, because they miss so many days of classes.

Beaudoin asked what the teachers could do to get extra support.

Student services director Melissa Musselwhite said the district’s early warning system, which monitors student attendance, discipline and grades, indicates that the vast majority of schools have 95 percent or more of students without attendance problems. She suggested the issues lie with a small core of children.

And Musselwhite told the board that the district has services in place, if teachers can’t find answers by working directly with parents.

All schools have social workers assigned, she said, who can help identify problems as small as needing an alarm clock to as critical as finding transportation solutions to campus. Beyond that, she added, the district has connections with counselors and other outside entities for more direct help to families, and it can deal with truancy and even juvenile justice agencies in the most extreme cases.

Superintendent Kurt Browning stressed that, in his view, "moms and dads are the gatekeepers on attendance. We take care of them when they are here, but we can’t go to their homes and get them up and get them dressed."

Still, he acknowledged that curbing chronic absenteeism among those students who miss the most is an issue that continues to need attention.

It’s been on the district’s plate since before he became superintendent, and, he said, it hasn’t been cured to his satisfaction.

Related: Student absences still a problem in Pasco schools

Browning said he would work with staff to pull together the latest data and information, so the board could hold a summer workshop where “we can problem solve around this.”

That issue temporarily set aside, board member Cynthia Armstrong had one more go at trying to convince her colleagues to reconsider the makeup work rule for unexcused absences — at least for high school students, if nothing else.

Maybe elementary and even middle school students can’t be responsible for whether their parents write notes excusing a missed day, Armstrong said, but high school students should take that responsibility. Otherwise, she suggested, the schools aren’t really preparing them for life after classes, when they must meet deadlines other requirements.

“I heard from administrators and teachers who really felt there could be abuse of the system,” she said. “We’re just not teaching responsibility.”

Her call fell flat, though, as the others on the board said they wanted to stick with the new direction, noting that even adults can get extensions on things like paying income taxes, though penalties do apply — just as they will under this new approach to missed work.

The code of conduct comes up for final consideration in early May.