County school board discusses possible attendance policy changes during August workshop

After not meeting in July, members of the Carter County School Board gathered for a workshop Thursday night, and talks primarily focused on chronic absenteeism in the school system and potential ways to alleviate the problem as best they can.

“Chronic absenteeism includes excused and unexcused absences,” Secondary Supervisor Danny McClain said.

He said any more than 10 absent days counts as a chronically absent student, and said the state is looking to hold more accountability among its school districts.

“We are around 23 percent [absenteeism],” McClain said.

This means roughly a quarter of students have missed 10 or more days of school, no matter what those reasons might be. For comparison, McClain said neighboring counties like Greene are around 6 or 7 percent right now.

He said many of these counties have implemented new policies to help reduce their absenteeism rates in their schools, which McClain presented to the board as talking points.

“We allow three parent call-ins per semester,” he said. “[Other counties] limit that to one.”

A larger point of conversation, however, was what he called “time for time,” from which he read Greene County’s policy as an example.

“After five days, excused or unexcused, they must attend time for time. They miss that sixth day, they have to spend a day making up that time,” he said.

This make-up day caused some discussion on what that would look like, either extra hours tacked on to a regular school day, a Saturday school day or even a summer school program.

Chairman Jerry Stout expressed concerns with such a system. Firstly, he was concerned about the quality of education these students would actually receive while making up those missed days.

“What was actually learned on a Saturday?” Stout said. “I am thinking about the quality of education.”

Danny Ward shared similar concerns.

“Why have time for time if you are not learning anything?” he said.

Despite these concerns, Danny Ward said looking at the absenteeism policies is necessary in order to develop good work ethic in students who graduate. Students who graduate with a good attitude about attendance do better in more structured workplaces like his, he said.

“We are talking about changing a culture,” Superintendent Kevin Ward said. “It becomes a deterrent.”

Stout expressed concern about how moves like time for time would disproportionately affect children with disabilities, as well as parents who have difficulty getting their children to school during normal days as it is, let alone extra days.

The board agreed a review board would be necessary to evaluate special cases, such as flu epidemics that regularly cause attendance difficulties in the county.

Kevin Ward said this is not coming up for a vote for next week’s board meeting, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. at 305 Academy Street in Elizabethton.

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