Greg Awbrey
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Written by Nathan Stubbs

Recently revised policies on students’ make-up work for unexcused absences and suspensions has the Lafayette Parish School Board concerned about double standards.

At the last school board meeting on Aug. 18, Nelda Broussard, Lafayette Parish School System’s director of census, student behavior and health services, addressed the board in an attempt to clear up growing confusion regarding the school system’s recently revised attendance policies. However, most board members seemed to walk out of the meeting even more perplexed about the policy. The issue involves several changes that have recently been enacted — from the state Legislature, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Lafayette Parish School Board itself.

Earlier this year, BESE enacted new state attendance requirements, increasing to 167 the minimum number of days students are required to be in attendance at school in order to pass. Previously, high school students were required to attend 162 days and elementary students 160 days. In response, the LPSS also adjusted its attendance policy, voting at its July 21 meeting to adopt new regulations that were supposed to correspond with state policy. In trying to address the issue of students who missed too many days to pass yet continued to make up work under the impression that they would receive full credit, the school system’s new policy states that “students may not complete make-up work for unexcused absences.”

For many, this seemed to run counter to another new state policy — this one enacted by the state Legislature at the request of the Jindal administration — that students who miss school due to suspension be required to make up lost work and be given at least partial credit for it.
“I just have a problem,” board member Greg Awbrey announced at the meeting. “If I have a child that wakes up ill, I keep them home for two days, and they go back to school. Well, we didn’t go to the doctor. So it’s an unexcused absence. That child’s right to make up work is less than someone that has a discipline issue. I have a monstrous problem with that.”

The parish student handbook states that an excused absense requires a doctor’s note. But according to Broussard, there is also such thing as a “temporarily excused absence” — another state designation. In the event a student misses two or fewer days and brings in a note from his parent or legal guardian, the student will be excused and allowed to make up work. A problem arises when a student misses more than two days or becomes habitually absent. In that case, the school can then move to require a doctor’s note for the student to be excused from school.

In order to avoid any uneven disciplinary actions, Broussard has been directed to come back before the board this week with clarification on documentation required for all excused absences so the board can examine whether any changes should be made.

“I think we’re making a huge mistake if we’re going to treat an unexcused absence more severely than a suspension,” Awbrey says. “There’s something wrong with that.”

Superintendent Burnell Lemoine agrees that the issue warrants further study. “Graduation rates and all these things factor into this,” he says. “So I think it’s important that we look and see how we can best address this situation.”

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