|By Michelle Symington|
MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM When students entered school on Jan. 23, it was the beginning of a new semester and the first day at school with a new, more strict attendance policy.
The School Committee approved the attendance policy last November and notices were sent home to parents over the past few months to make everyone aware of the new policy.
School Committee Member Linda Galarneau said, "It was brought to our attention that attendance and tardies became a big concern from principals and the administration," she said. "And, if students are not in class, they can't learn."
She said she believes that Agawam Schools do whatever they can to make sure the students are successful by offering a variety of programs. She mentioned the MCAS preparation program as an example.
"The bottom line is, they need to do their part and come to school," she said. "We uphold what we need to do as a city to help students and students need to come to school."
She explained that the new policy was implemented on Jan. 23 because it was the beginning of a new semester.
She added that a child should not be penalized for an absence that occurred before the start of the new policy.
"A new semester is fair to all involved," Galarneau said.
She added that the Committee and the School Department did a lot of publicity surrounding the new policy to make sure that everyone was aware of the changes.
"We wanted to get the word out in advance so parents knew there was a significant change," she said.
School Committee member Roberta Doering also said the new policy came about by concerns from administrators, the truancy officer and the Committee's own philosophy that "children have to be in school in order to learn."
She explained that the Agawam attendance officer surveyed other school districts in the area about their attendance policies.
"Based on that information and input from the administration, we developed the policy," she said. "There is always a concern when children don't come to school."
She added that it is state law that children are required to be in school until the age of 16.
The School Committee worked on the new policy for several months. Doering said discussions about the policy took place between the School Committee, Superintendent Mary Czajkowski and administrators throughout most of the fall term.
"A lot of thought went into it," she said.
She added that there was an attendance policy in place in Agawam, but is was not as strict as the new policy.
According to the a portion of the new policy, which is also mandated by Massachusetts General Laws, any person in control of a child shall cause that child to attend school as required.
If the parent or guardian "fails to do so for seven day sessions or 14 half-day sessions within any period of six months, he/she shall, on complaint by a supervisor of attendance, be punished by a fine of not more that $20."
The policy further states, "Whoever induces or attempts to induce a minor to absent him/herself unlawfully from school, or unlawfully employs him/her or harbors a minor, while school is in session, is absent unlawfully there from, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $200."
According to the new policy, parents and guardians must provide a written excuse upon a student's return form school from an absence. They are required to contact the school the morning of an illness and are required to notify the school in advance for any planned absences.
A doctor's note is required if a child is out for more than five days sequentially or eight days cumulatively in a 30-day period, according to the policy.
The policy outlines legitimate reasons for an absence, which include: personal illness of the student, family or catastrophic emergency, bereavement, observation of a religious holiday, DSS placement, DYS confinement, necessary court appearance, and any other reason the administration deems appropriate.
The new policy also outlines the requirements for tardies and dismissals, which also require notes or phone calls from a parent or guardian.
The new policy differs between grades K-8 and the high school level.
At the high school level, the policy states that students "18 years or over, with respect to his/her own absences from school, shall have the responsibilities and powers, which in the case of a minor, would be charged to the parent or guardian."
A specific form, which can be found in the Agawam High School Code of Conduct must be filled out by the parent or guardian to allow the student to have such power.
Students at the high school level can lose credit in a course if their absences exceed five days in a semester course or 10 days in a full-year course, according to the new policy.
The policy states, "Students will receive the grade that they earned in a course for which credit is denied due to attendance. If a student receives a passing grade in a course required for graduation, but is denies credit due to excessive absence, the student may fulfill the necessary requirements by retaking the course for credit."
The policy further states that a student who misses more than half of class will be marked as tardy. A student with a pass from an administrator, teacher, nurse, adjustment counselor or guidance counselor will not be marked as tardy.
Superintendent Mary Czjakowski could not be reached for comment by press time.
The full attendance policy for all grades can be viewed on the School Department's website at www.agawampublicschools.org.