GREENWICH, Conn. – Family vacations will no longer be excused absences for students in Greenwich Public Schools after the Connecticut State Board of Education adopted more rigid definitions for excused and unexcused absences.
The state had no consistent definition for excused absences until now. The new definitions, adopted at the board's most recent meeting, are part of an effort by the state Department of Education to collect and publish comparable data on truancy. According to the state, current law defines “truant” as a student who has four unexcused absences in a month or 10 unexcused absences in a year.
“The variance among definitions of absences at the district level has made it extremely difficult to create, and report on, reliable data on truancy, one of the department’s statutory responsibilities,” Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a statement. The action “will preserve local decision-making while ensuring that families with children at risk of truancy receive the supports they need in the most timely manner.”
Under state rules, a student may miss up to nine days of school for illnesses, religious holidays, death in the family, mandated court appearances, a lack of transportation normally provided by a district or “extraordinary education opportunities” that have been preapproved by district administrators. Absences as a result of school or district disciplinary action – such as suspensions – will also be considered excused.
A student’s absence from school will be considered excused only if written documentation of the reason for the absence has been submitted within 10 days of a student’s return to school.
Greenwich High School has been ahead of the curve in combating attendance issues. “The high school has been concerned about attendance issues for some time and over a year ago began working on a new high school policy for attendance connected to credits and courses,” said Kim Eves, communications director for the Greenwich Public Schools.
The new policy limits the number of absences a student may have in a course before losing credit. The definition of excused absences for the policy included personal illnesses, death in the family, court appearance and religious holidays, as well as up to six college visits, emergency medical appointments and family vacations.
Though the school discourages family vacations during school time, if a student has an “extended vacation form” and phone call made in advance, the vacation would be excused.
The policy was implemented at the start of the 2011-12 school year. Over three marking periods, the school saw a 25 percent decrease in tardies, a 12 percent decline in excused absences and a 33 percent decrease in unexcused absences. By the end of the first semester, 132 students lost credit in a total of 350 classes. Some students also failed the class in addition to losing credit.
The school set up a Board of Appeals. Of 54 appeals, credit was granted for 34 students who appealed a total 76 courses. Eight students who appealed a total of 17 courses were rejected.