Jun 28, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
What started as a discussion of the effectiveness of a district tardiness policy at the recent school board meeting turned into a philosophical debate on the responsibilities and limitations of the school district as academic law enforcement officer or surrogate parent to its students.
At issue was the district’s year-old — and relatively controversial — requirement of a doctor’s note to verify “health appointment” excuses for high school student tardiness (what the school calls “health lates”). Students who fail to get a note are barred from participating in any extracurricular activities after school that day, both athletic and academic.
“In my opinion, I think it’s worked out very well,” said high school Principal Eric Schnabl, who gave the board of education an update on the policy at its June 17 meeting. “I think it’s something people are getting used to.”
The reason for the change was the steady increase in the use of “health late” excuses as a loophole by students who had missed a part of the school day for an illegal reason but still wanted to participate in extracurricular activities. The new requirement of a doctor’s note closed that loophole.
According to school records, the number of students who came to school late with a doctor’s note decreased to 649 occurrences — or 63 percent — during the 2012-13 school year, which was the first year the policy was in effect. During the 2011-12 year there were 1,735 health lates, and during 2011-10 there were 1,663, Schnabl said.
This significant decrease in the number of students arriving to school late shows that the policy has worked, Schnabl told the board, which is the same thing he told the board when they discussed the policy at their February meeting.
The policy may have reduced the number of health lates at the high school, but a number of district parents have objected to the policy as too harsh for the transgression and, more importantly, a violation of a student’s privacy. A number of parents, unhappy with the revised policy, began in October 2012 requesting a revocation of the change; and in January 2013 a group of parents presented a petition to the district expressing that sentiment. The school board addressed the issue at its regular January meeting and continued the discussing at its Feb. 25 meeting.
Since February, the district has changed certain aspects of the policy, such as having notes and explanations given directly to Schnabl or to Assistant Principal Susan Vickers rather than to Schnabl’s administrative assistant. Parents also now are allowed to call Schnabl or Vickers to explain the health late over the phone if they feel uncomfortable submitting a written note. The decision as to whether a student’s tardiness was the result of an “extreme emergency” per the policy — which would then allow the student no tardiness penalty — is also solely at the discretion of Schnabl and/or Vickers and no one else.
Board member Leigh Baldwin, however, called the policy “flawed” and one based on a “lack of trust” of not only the student but also their parents. He urged the other board members to remember that “the parents are strongly opposed to this, and we represent them. We are going down a path [with this policy] that the parents don’t want us to go down.”
“As a parent, I agree with Leigh,” said board member Cindy Bell Tobey.
Schnabl said other school districts have policies that allow students to participate in extracurricular activities as long as the student arrives at school by a certain time, such as 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. “But we made a decision as a school community to hold our students to a higher standard,” he said. The current Cazenovia policy is that students must be in their homeroom by 7:58 a.m.
Baldwin said that when the students go to college the professors don’t care if they are late or not. “Let’s just trust the parents,” he said.
“But are we okay with 1,100 tardies?” Schnabl asked.
“If that’s what the parents are saying,” responded board Vice President Karin Marris.
BOE President Fritz Koennecke said kids need to know when they are required to be places and be held accountable and not “taken off the hook” when they violate a rule.
Marris said it “shouldn’t be up to the administrators what’s fair or not,” especially when parents feel their child’s tardiness is not something to be punished for.
“Eric has to have some kind of authority,” said Superintendent Bob Dubik, to which board member Jan Woodworth added that since New York state has compulsory education “It’s our responsibility as a school to make sure they are here.”
“No it’s not,” Marris said.
“Yes, it is our job to make every effort to make sure they are here,” Schnabl responded.
After much discussion, the board decided to leave the “health late” policy as it is, with the exception of changing the policy wording of allowable tardiness for “extreme circumstances” to say “special circumstances” as a way to allow more leeway to parents, students and administrators. The board also agreed to have Schnabl report back to them during the 2013-14 school year for another update on the policy to see if it is still working or if parents remain opposed to it.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.