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Under draft policy, chronic absenteeism could spell loss of high school credits

An amended draft policy on public school attendance clearly defines excused absences, how those absences need to be explained to schools and how schools should address absences and lateness.
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A student walks into Citadel High School in Halifax. An amended draft policy focuses on providing students supports necessary to improve attendance. (RYAN TAPLIN / Local Xpress / File)

Students need to be in class to learn.

And students need to learn to be in class.

That’s the directive behind a draft policy on public school attendance revised and reissued this week by the committee tasked with improving classroom conditions.

“Teachers have told us that poor attendance and late arrivals are growing issues that are impacting the classroom environment for all students,” Education Minister Karen Casey said in a statement. “Students need and deserve to be in the best environment to learn and prepare for their future.”

The department issued a discussion paper on attendance last year and used the comments received to develop a draft policy. As part of the contract imposed through legislation on the province’s 9,300 public school teachers two months ago, a 14-member Council to Improve Classroom Conditions was struck. That committee this week revised the draft policy based on feedback from teachers that recommended the attendance policy must set out clear expectations and that a school’s decision cannot be overturned by school boards.

The amended draft policy clearly defines excused absences, how those absences need to be explained to schools and how schools should address absences and lateness. The policy allows for the loss of course credits at the high school level in cases of continued unexcused absences.

“Through this policy, we want to provide students, teachers, administrators and parents or guardians with the support they need to ensure students are present and engaged in their studies,” Casey said.

The draft policy focuses on providing students supports necessary to improve attendance, including referrals to school-based services like guidance counsellors, psychologists and mental health clinicians.

“There are complex issues behind chronic lateness or absences for some students and we do not want a policy that punishes them at a time that they need help,” Casey said. “This policy ensures that vulnerable students receive inclusive, fair and equitable supports.”

Completing three days of meetings this week, the classroom improvement committee requested that the department release the draft attendance policy immediately so that feedback could be gathered by the committee by May 17. The draft policy is available online. The public is encouraged to submit comments and ideas by May 9.

The goal is to implement the new attendance policy for the next school year.

The council will meet again on Wednesday to finalize its initial report, including more than a dozen recommendations delivered in March.

The report will be submitted by April 28.



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