Attendance policy change was poorly orchestrated and unnecessary

Sam Obar

Among the changes implemented at Walpole High School this year was a newly revised attendance policy that aims to cut down on senior absences.  The change was made by the Student Handbook Committee late last year, but was not announced to students until the first day of school this year.  Whereas previously students were permitted a maximum of twelve unexcused absences per year, the new policy dictates that a maximum of three unexcused absences per term are allowed, totaling twelve per year.  The change was a result of widespread abuse of the previous attendance policy, where seniors were saving up their absence days and then using them all at once near the end of the year.  As with any school policy change, there are some students and parents who are not pleased with the new regulations.  While school administrators and the student handbook committee had the right intentions in changing the policy, they did it with little input from others in the school community.  The attendance policy has a tremendous impact on every student in the school, and changes to it should be properly reviewed and discussed before being changed.  Furthermore, students should not be mandated to attend school for any minimum number of days.  Students who are absent are losing out on a proper education anyway and do not need punishment outside of what they are already losing from not being in class on a daily basis.

In the past, students have been fortunate to have a lot of influence in the direction which their school is going.  The Student Handbook itself, for example, is reviewed and modified annually as needed by a committee composed of students, faculty, and parents.  The diversity in the membership allows for all perspectives to be heard.  Likewise, the committee tasked with appointing a new principal at Walpole High was made up of varied groups and interests.  Students, teachers, and administration were all adequately represented on the committee.  When he became principal last year, Mr. Imbusch committed to increasing communication with students and to expanding collaboration with students.  Surprisingly, however, a monumental change in the attendance policy, as was effected by the Student Handbook Committee, was never discussed among the student body at large, or with their parents, and few students knew the policy had even changed once they started school on September 1.  The attendance policy impacts every student, and students should have been adequately informed when the change was considered and approved.  Students should have at least been updated about the change well before the school year started.  Some families may be scheduling extended vacations or making other plans that will make a student absent for more than three days per term.  Those are plans that may have been made before school started, and yet nobody was notified that the policy had been changed until the first day of school. More communication between administrators and families during the late spring while the policy was being changed would have been more responsible.
Having an attendance policy that is as rigid as the new policy is not necessary in the first place.  Students who want to be truant from school and not attend classes on a daily basis will be losing out tremendously from the lost class time and further time they will have to spend making up the work they missed.  The sheer thought of missing work and having to do extensive make up assignments is enough to prevent some students, especially in higher level classes where the workload is greater, from being absent very often.  The loss of class time is already enough to prevent many students from being absent.  The time students spent out of school – whether through excused absences or unexcused absences – will affect their grade in the long run anyway, and thus an attendance policy of any magnitude is unnecessary. Students should be allowed to be absent from school as often as they want if they so choose – their education is what is on the line in the end.
The new attendance policy may be needed in the eyes of administrators who were facing widespread abuse of the previous policy in years past, but the wholesale modification of a policy no one knew was in need of change and no one knew was being changed was a poor choice for school leadership to make.  Mandating that students attend class at all times is also not necessary, given that students already face a virtually-unwritten mandate that in order to get good grades, their attendance at school is needed.