by The Editorial Board
Amid the rush of term one’s end and college deadlines for seniors, the occasional Schoology message alerting us to meet with a dean after we’ve missed class or skipped a WIN block can serve as a seemingly unnecessary source of dread. At best, the updated attendance policy is an inconvenience in the busy life of a South student.
While we appreciate the district’s concern about students missing classes, two months in, we question whether this year’s policy is truly effective or necessary.
To understand the reasoning behind this policy, it is critical to put it in the context of last year’s attendance issue. Last year, classes began half-empty as students skipped blocks with little to no repercussions.
This year, leaders at North and South took a different approach. They decided that to earn a “Y,” meaning that the student has met the standards of the attendance policy, students would need fewer than six total absences and no more than two unexcused absences per term.
Students with more absences are given an “N” on their transcripts, signaling their failure to meet the attendance standards. Students with a note from a medical provider receive an “M” (medical grade) and are exempt from the standards. Students arriving more than 25 minutes late to a class are considered absent.
Though the document outlining this policy meant to render the system “clear, transparent and implemented with consistency,” it provided no information on the mandatory WIN block meetings with deans that many students have become subject to.
Instead, most students became aware of this novelty during the whirlwind advisory of the first day of school. On such a hectic day, how could students have been expected to fully comprehend the new system?
The new policy comes to students after two years of pandemic policy freefall. After years of schedule changes and other inconsistencies with school policies, students want a system that is easy to understand.
We want an efficient system. As it currently stands, assistant deans are left sending thousands of individual Schoology messages to students who missed classes. In the 21st century, is it not possible to have a more efficient system to enforce attendance?
The policy wastes not only the adults’ time, but also that of the students, who have to spend WIN blocks waiting to be seen by a dean. After having missed a class or WIN block, students are ordered to report to their house offices the following day during WIN, regardless of their schedules.
Is it really efficient for students to waste a WIN that could be spent for educational purposes? This policy takes students away from the important task of learning, instead prioritizing an inefficient bureaucracy.
Moreover, such strictly regulated attendance may have adverse effects on the physical health of the student population.
Since the policy was enacted, Roar staff reported feeling more pressure to attend class, even on days they were sick or celebrating a holiday not observed by Newton Public Schools.
In an October email update, then-Acting Principal Josepha Blocker said that students can and should stay home if they feel unwell, but the complex policy still promotes the workaholism of South’s pre-pandemic days as many have reported going to school even when sick.
Remember, the medical absence provided in the policy only works with a sick note from a healthcare provider, which is not often possible for minor illnesses.
The enforcement of the attendance policy as the workload returns to its pre-pandemic pace forces students to choose between missing important classes and receiving an unwanted absence on their transcript or attending school while sick and risking the infection of others.
Looking towards the future of this policy, it seems unlikely that the district will consider any drastic changes — after all, it is time for some consistency. However, there is room for small improvements to the policy.
For one, students should not have to explain their absences to a dean. Instead, they should only have a meeting in the case of a mistaken absence (if the student was actually present but marked absent). Only a small group of outliers who are consistently skipping class should be subject to more serious discussion with adults, saving both deans and students alike much trouble.
South should take a more relaxed attitude towards absences for students’ mental health and for illnesses without a doctor’s note.
The issue of student absence should be a student responsibility, not always involving parent or dean intervention. Ultimately, we must move away from this one-size-fits all policy, because we are not a school with a single type of student. The attendance policy must work to acknowledge our different realities.