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High school ‘health late’ policy remains under scrutiny

— 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.

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