Hernando County schools consider stricter attendance policy

Published July 6, 2014

Hernando County students and parents could see changes in their attendance policy if the School Board approves recommendations from an attendance committee.

The revisions add teeth to the existing policy and were recommended as more research has proven the connection between attendance and success in the classroom, according to the attendance committee made up of assistant principals and guidance counselors that wrote the proposed changes.

"Students need to be there in order to get the instruction they need," said Dana Pearce, an assistant principal at Springstead High School who served on the committee. "We're being held accountable for them, and teachers are being held accountable, and that's going to hit their wallets at some point."

The first potential change addresses the amount of class time students are allowed to miss. Currently, this is determined by the number of days missed. The board will consider replacing this with a system that requires students to maintain a 90 percent attendance rate per class over the course of the school year.

The shift would put all high schools on the same playing field, Pearce said. Nature Coast Technical High School operates on a block system, with different classes on different days. So missing a full day at Nature Coast could mean missing more or less time in each class than at the other four high schools.

If students aren't present for the required amount of time, they could lose privileges such as parking, and attendance at prom and homecoming events, a change Pearce considers to be the most significant.

This system aims to take a more preventative approach because the students would start viewing the activities as incentives to come to school rather than privileges, said supervisor of high school curriculum Marcia Austin, who led the committee.

"The loss of privileges will serve as a warning as opposed to the current policy where students discover at the end of the semester that they are over the number of allowed absences," she said.

Excused absences don't factor into the percentage. But students would have an excused absence limit of five per semester. The valid reasons for excused absences will stay the same, including illness, death in the family and principal-approved vacations.

The committee originally removed vacations from the list, but the School Board recommended at a workshop in June to add it back in. But the board and administrators present at the workshop agreed that vacation excuses should not be granted during testing periods.

Austin said she hopes parents will plan trips around the school calendar.

The tardy policy could also change. Currently, a tardy counts as an absence if a student misses more than half a class. Now, students who miss more than 25 percent of the class will be considered absent.

Surrounding counties are starting to make shifts in their attendance enforcement as well.

Pasco County School District officials brought in a doctoral student from the University of South Florida to conduct research on dropout risk factors, which include attendance, said Carrie Morris, senior supervisor of student services. District officials are in the early stages of analyzing their current policies but plan to refine them over the next few years based on the research findings.

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In Citrus County, administrators have recommended the School Board delete a section of the code that stipulates students may fail a class for accumulating more than five absences in a quarter, said Regina Allegretta, director of student services.

Feedback from teachers and principals showed that the 15-year-old penalty system was no longer effective. Allegretta said the district is putting together an attendance committee over the next year to come up with a more suitable solution.

"We're looking for alternative methods," she said. "We want to do what's best for the kids."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (352)754-6114 or Follow @kathrynvarn.