The Reality of Harriton’s New Attendance Policy

Adjoa Mante

We’ve all been there. Power-walking, jogging, sometimes even running to get to school before that deadly 7:30 bell sounds. This year, there’s been a change that will make that last minute rush to school even more stressful.

I’m sure most sophomores, juniors and seniors remember the changes to the attendance policy that were announced by Ms. Marcuson early in the school year. However, there may be an aspect of the new system that you weren’t aware of: a new stance on cutting class. For those who missed the assembly, Ms. Marcuson announced the ‘interim guidelines for attendance’ that our district has applied in accordance with a new section of the Pennsylvania code and a Compulsory Attendance and Truancy Elimination Plan. The interim guidelines stated that compulsory, or required, school age is until either the age of seventeen or graduation, whichever comes first.

The guidelines also categorize absences as either excused, which are either cumulative or noncumulative, or unlawful/unexcused, which may be anything from illegal employment to oversleeping. For an absence to be excused, a parent or legal guardian must provide written explanation within three days of the absence. The accumulation of more than ten excused absences would be considered unlawful, and if a student has five or more cumulative excused absences, the principal is alerted. Unlawful, or unexcused absences are a completely different case: after three or more unlawful absences, fines and/or a Juvenile petition could be filed. If a student is 17 or older and has more than 10 consecutive unexcused absences, that student will be dismissed for ‘school abandonment’.

In addition to missing school, being late to school or class has consequences as well. If you are less than 15 minutes late to a class once without a ’valid excuse’, you can get a detention. If this happens four times, teachers can submit discipline referrals, and if you are late to a class by 15 minutes or more without a ‘valid excuse’, it is considered a class cut. Students who get to school after the bell must sign in at the Attendance Office before attending class, and if they don’t, they ‘receive a zero for the day in all classes.’ Whenever you’re late, whether due to a doctor’s appointment or authorized school activities, a written excuse must be presented to the office.  When arriving to class, you must give your teacher an “admit” slip from the office, or you will not be allowed to come to class.

Just like absences, both excused and unexcused tardiness have consequences. On the 12th excused tardy, students without frees (freshmen and sophomores), will receive detentions, while sophomores in the second semester, juniors, and seniors will loose their frees for nine weeks. On the 24th and 36th excused tardy the most severe ramifications include suspension for freshmen and sophomores and the loss of frees for sophomores, juniors, and seniors for the rest of the school year.  Also, frees will be taken away from these sophomores, juniors, and seniors during the first semester of the following school year.  For an unexcused tardiness, which must be more than two classes in a full day, the punishments are similar. Punishments are given on the 4th, 10th, 15th, and 18th tardiness, the least of which being a detention (and loss of frees for 9 weeks for upperclassmen) and the most being an ISS (and loss of frees for the rest of the school year for upperclassmen).

According to Ms. Seherlis, the Attendance Officer of the Department of Student Services, the school board is going to accept a new policy in November that includes the rules above and states that “Unexcused tardy or unexcused early dismissal minutes may be calculated and reflected as the equivalent of one unlawful absence” and many more provisions that can be found on the LMSD website. The most recent policy about class cutting requires teachers to check to see if students were in their previous classes to help determine whether they had skipped other classes.

So, what does all this mean for us? For the students? The teachers?

Well, for one thing, we the students are going to have to be a lot more careful about coming to school on time and prepared. Gone are the days of nonchalantly strolling into your first period class and expecting teachers to ignore you. Gone are the days of walking into class late with food recently purchased from the breakfast table. Gone are the days of arriving at bio or math tardy and citing the trek up the stairs as an excuse. It seems that the newest addition to the attendance policy can only strengthen the strong stance on cutting that has been established by the new guidelines. It is too early to judge the impact that the policy will have on student absences, but Mr. Kritzer said, “I haven’t found a significant difference in its impact on student absences, though the new policy does create extra work for teachers.”

As it is just after the end of the first quarter and as winter break and midterms get closer and closer, we are all still taking tentative steps in our school careers. But as the school year progresses and we learn more and more about ourselves, we will also begin to learn more about our school. What will these new policies do for our school? What will these new policies do for our teachers and students? Only time will tell.