Students have yet to head back to school, but school officials in Fort Worth already are stressing how important it is that they not miss classes.
A note will be sent to parents stressing that students must attend at least 90 percent of the days class is offered to make sure they pass and move on to the next grade.
“Every absence is counted in a student’s attendance record, regardless of the reason,” the Fort Worth school district wrote in the note. “Even two absences a month for nine months of school can jeopardize a student’s ability to pass a class or graduate from high school.”
And no parent or doctor’s note will be enough to clear students in some cases.
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At issue is the state’s 90 percent attendance law, which has been in place since 1995.
If a student’s attendance drops below 90 percent in any class, parents or guardians will be notified and given a chance to work with school officials to create “an attendance recovery plan” geared to help students earn credit for attendance or raise a grade — whatever is needed to pass that class.
This is a concern for some parents.
Sarah Martinez, who has two students in Fort Worth schools, said this news from the district is “particularly troubling to parents with special-needs or medically fragile children.”
Martinez added: “Goodness knows they already have to go through so much already. The fear, I think, is they will have to add more cumbersome procedures and meetings to their already lengthy to-do list.”
Fort Worth officials say attendance committees — which will include teachers and be appointed by the board of trustees — will hear petitions for final grades or class credit for students who missed too many classes. Committee members may OK final grades or class credit for students “because of extenuating circumstances,” according to the Texas Education Code.
For instance, if a student misses class because of a religious holiday, that absence counts toward the overall absences.
But “if the student’s attendance committee ... saw that the student was absent because of a religious holiday, the absence would be excused,” said Clint Bond, a spokesman with the school district.
Anyone who disagrees with an attendance committee’s decision may appeal to the board of trustees. That decision, in turn, may be appealed to district court, the code states.
And if a student doesn’t attend 75 percent of a class, his or her case will automatically go to an attendance committee that will review whether a student will be able to pass that class or even “graduate on time.” A student can’t get credit or a final grade for any class, under these conditions, unless a “judge presiding over the student’s case” signs off on approval, state education code states.
Bond said the attendance issue is now arising “because we are required to be in compliance with state law.”
“A lot (of) ISDs have campaigns to have students in class the entire school year for academic reasons.,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. “The more students are in class, the more they learn and retain.
“This is nothing new,” she said. “Districts have been employing various tactics to get students to school for years.”
It ‘adds up’
Students head back to school in Fort Worth on Aug. 20.
If your child is sick, Bond still recommends sending a note to school when he or she returns.
“If the child approaches the 10 percent absence rate, the parent will have been notified,” he said. “If the child exceeds 10 percent, then the student attendance committee will review the reasons and what efforts have been made or are in place to recover the time.”
School officials say this push to boost attendance is needed because too many absences can hurt a student’s grade and “their ability to succeed.”
“The best action a student can take is to be in school every day, because it all adds up,” according to the note Fort Worth officials will send home to parents. “Parents and students are encouraged to keep track of absences and work with their school to keep attendance above 90 percent.”
Earlier this year, the Fort Worth school district approved an incentive program aimed at getting more students to make it to class. Students who don’t miss school can win prizes under the program.
At nearby Birdville schools no changes are underway in the handling of absence notes. The district requires students to bring a note from a parent or doctor when students return from being absent.
At Northwest schools, the district holds an attendance awareness campaign in September —which is the recognized month for the issue of attendance, said Anthony Tosie, a spokesman for the district.
“We do require a note from a health-care provider for an absence related to health matters,” Tosie explained in an email to the Star-Telegram. “For other matters, parents and guardians are asked to contact the school each day the student is absent. They can do that by phone, but they must also provide written notification of the reason for the absence after that. Office and administration staff will determine if the note meets an excused eligibility requirement.”