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No excuse for absences in Pullman

High school toughens policy to up attendance

Pullman High School is tightening its attendance policy by setting a limit on excused absences.

Under the new policy, which goes into effect in the fall, a student with nine absences in any class during a semester, excused or not, will receive a pass or fail grade. A student with 13 absences will receive no credit for the class.

The current policy doesn’t address penalties for excused absences.

The addition to the policy was at the request of the Pullman High School staff because of “a trend of more students not attending school,” said Pullman School District Superintendent Paul Sturm. “It communicates the importance of attendance.”

School-related activities such as sports won’t count toward the limit on excused absences.

For Timothy Chase, whose teenage daughter misses numerous days due to a chronic illness, the new policy is “illogical and burdensome,” he said. “My whole problem is not accepting excused absences.”

Parents will be notified upon the sixth and ninth absences and reminded of the consequences. Students will have the opportunity to appeal any decision at the end of a semester, according to the policy.

“The goal, as I see it, is a four-step process,” Sturm said: “awareness; intervention; sanction – pass/fail grade, which retains the hope that the child will not lose the credit; and the last step, loss of credit,” Sturm said.

The new policy goes beyond the state’s Becca law, which requires schools to report a student’s unexcused absences to the county’s juvenile court when the child misses five days in a month or 10 days in a school year.

“They have taken the Becca laws and definitions to a new level, well above and beyond what the state had set forth,” Chase said.

Chase’s daughter, however, may be the exception among most students who have numerous absences. He said she remains in contact with her teachers when she is absent, keeps up on her assignments and maintains a 3.8 grade-point average.

Typically, “if a student misses too much school, it’s hard for them to catch up and the kids drop out,” Sturm said. “The policy is to avoid loss of credit, and if you look at the policy in totality it really places the responsibility on teachers to intervene and come up with a plan.”

Pullman’s on-time graduation rate is high compared to many other districts at nearly 90 percent.

Sturm added, in the case of Chase’s daughter, she’s responsible, and there’s a legitimate reason for her to be missing school.

Parents who are upset “think kids are going to be penalized, and that’s not our intent,” Sturm said. “We want to make sure that kids aren’t punished arbitrarily for unavoidable absences.”

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