By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education approved another tweak to its attendance policy, providing an option for principals to excuse student absences for special events, educational opportunities and religious activities.
Previously, the board voted to not require teachers to allow students to make up work missed for an unexcused absence. That was changed because a number of students over the age of 18, and no longer subject to Tennessee truancy laws, would miss 40, 50, 60 days of school or more. Because the policy allowed those students to make up all their missed work, they were still able to pass their courses and graduate.
"Our intent is that students need to be in the classroom," said Josh Stone, 4th District representative. "Education is better than just doing homework."
But that change had resulted in unintended consequences, such as students not being able to attend a religious conference because they would need to miss a day of school, or being unable to visit several colleges during their senior year because missed worked could not be made up and the students would receive "0" for grades those days.
Parent Jaime Nye told the board, "You are limiting what these kids are allowed to do. You are limiting the potential for these kids."
She encouraged the board to look at ways to amend the policy and take special circumstances into consideration.
"I could have lied and said [her son] was sick," she said. "Instead I sought an exemption to get these days excused. The school system should be encouraging students."
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said, "It wasn't our intent to disqualify students from visiting colleges or attending youth trips. A lot of that is very important in the growth of a child. We're dedicated to finding a happy medium where we can accommodate everyone as best we can."
The policy was changed to add that the principal may excuse an absence if requested at least 10 days in advance of the absence and provide documentation, such as a letter from a church verifying a mission trip or invitation from a college. The policy also allows for appeals of attendance decisions to Director of Schools Donald Andrews.
The policy for Cumberland County students wishing to become foreign exchange students was also approved, requiring students to complete a written plan detailing how he or she will complete the requirements for high school graduation in a timely manner.
The graduation policy was amended to include that students graduating with distinction and state honors during the graduation ceremony.
A new facilities planning policy was approved, which fulfills a requirement to establish an asbestos management plan for the school system.
An energy use and conservation policy was approved, modeled after the Monroe County Board of Education policy. The policy is necessary to allow the school system to apply for a $30,000 grant for energy management.
The revenue policy was changed to allow schools to apply for grants without board approval, allowing for quicker response to grand deadlines. Applications are to go to the director of schools or his designee and, if any matching funds or in-kind work is required, the applications will require board approval. The board will still have to approve acceptance of all funds and budgets.
The policies were unanimously approved on first reading following the recommendation of the policy committee of the board. Policy changes require two successful readings before being implemented.