By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education will take up changes to its attendance policy when it meets Thursday in an effort to help keep students coming to school and to better prepare high school students for post-secondary education.
Last month, the committee discussed the problem of students over the age of 18 missing 30, 40, 50 or more days of instruction and still passing their classes. That's because the current policy allows all missed work to be made up, regardless if the absence was excused or unexcused. That's placed a burden on teachers, administrators have said.
This month, the committee has recommended changing the policy to allow only work missed for an excused absence to be made up.
Reasons for missing school that would be considered excused absences include personal illness, or the illness of an immediate family member; death in the family; extreme weather conditions; recognized religious observances; failure of a school bus to make scheduled or snow routes; or appointments with a doctor or dentist. The policy also allows students a one-day absence when their parent or custodian is deployed into active military service or returns from active military service. The policy also allows for circumstances which, in the judgement of the principal, create emergencies over which the student has no control, or that involve an educational opportunity not otherwise available.
A maximum of five days each semester will be recognized as an excused absence with a parent note, but those notes must include an acceptable reason for the absence.
The policy committee has also recommended changing the final exam exemption policy that allows students to skip exams if they meet certain grade and attendance criteria. Currently, students can skip exams if they have an A average and no more than three excused absences; a B average and no more than two excused absences; or a C average and missed no more than one excused absence.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said surveys of former students have noted this left them feeling unprepared when they had to prepare for a final exam in college.
"That's from the feedback we're getting from graduating seniors," he said. "A lot of them have struggled because they've never had to take an exam because they've been exempt. A lot of graduates have requested the schools stop having the exemptions."
The committee also recommended changes to the homeschool policy following changes in state law that requires public schools to allow home school students to participate in public school athletics.
The law requires students to be enrolled in a home school conducted by the student's parent or legal guardian and the home school program is recognized by TSSAA guidelines. Students must be registered as home school students by Aug. 1 of the school year in which they want to participate in interscholastic athletics, and students must meet the same academic and conduct standards required of other participants on the schools' athletic teams.
Also, students who would be ineligible to participate in a school's athletic programs at the time they withdraw from public or private school will remain ineligible to participate as a home school student until successfully completing one grading period and re-establishing eligibility.
Other policies up for consideration on first reading are:
•Zero tolerance offenses, policy 6.309, adding electronic threats as a reason for expulsion.
•Physical assault leave, policy 5.307, providing workers' compensation benefits to teachers who are absent from work as a result of personal injury caused by physical assault or other violent criminal acts committed in the course of the teacher's duties.
•Nepotism, policy 1.108, calling for disclosure of family relationships of new hires to board members, the director, school administrators, county commissioners or any appointed or elected official; requiring board members to disclose any such relationship prior to voting on any matter that may have an effect on the employment of that relative; and not allowing someone to directly supervise or be directly supervised by a relative. Relatives will include spouse, parents, in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or any person residing in the same household.
•Suspension/expulsion/remand, policy 6.319, states a student may not face disciplinary action if, after investigation, administrators find a student acted in self-defense under reasonable believe they or another student may have been facing the threat of imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.
•Extracurricular activity drug testing, policy 6.3071, removes "all signatures must be witnessed by a designated school official and must comply with consent requirements as stated on the consent form."
The board will consider second and final reading of a policy change to school board meetings, policy 1.400, calling for all board meetings, including regular monthly meetings, special-called meetings and work session, to begin with a moment of silence and the pledge to the flag.
The board will also consider its 2013-'14 budget, the 2013-'14 school nutrition program budget, discussion of student resource officers for county schools, proposed additions at North Cumberland and Crab Orchard elementary schools and renovation of the Cumberland County High School stadium and line-item budget amendments. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the Central Office. The public is invited to attend.