Schreiber has an attendance policy known as the 85 percent rule, which, in my opinion, is inherently unfair and punitive to students who have legal, validated absences. In the latest issue of The Schreiber Scribe, Dr. Banta discussed the policy, reminding students that "missing five classes (in any one quarter) may result in a failing grade." He continues: "Although legitimate absences can be made up, unexcused absences cannot be removed by making up class time." Why should "legitimate absences" have to be made up with additional class time at all? I have a serious problem with a school policy that unduly burdens adolescents when they have a legitimate and verifiable reason for being absent. No one can argue when a high school penalizes students who are illegally absent and/or cutting classes. Those individuals have a responsibility to attend classes and need to be held accountable if they make bad decisions. The 85 percent rule may, indeed, work well to keep less responsible students from making inappropriate choices. The school also has a right to disapprove of illegal excuses (even parent-signed ones) such as missing school days to get a head start on a vacation.
On the other hand, if a child is out for several days or longer due to no fault of their own ... illness, injury, death of a family member, etc. ... it strikes me as unconscionable for a school to mandate that he/she either make up class time or receive a poor/failing grade. For these legally absent students, this policy is nothing more than a disciplinary measure masquerading as an attendance rule.
Yes, it is reasonable to expect students who are legally absent to contact fellow classmates in order to make up missing homework and get class notes to keep abreast of subject matter. It is reasonable to expect that when the child returns to school that he/she have a parent note detailing the reason for the period of absence. Furthermore, it is also his/her responsibility to make up any missing tests given while absent. These responsibilities already add up to a significant burden for such students. To now demand that they make up class time as well is unreasonable, unjust and unnecessarily punitive. What a Hobson's choice: make up class time or risk failing one or more courses. Saddling these students, many of whom have very limited free time, with make-up classes in possibly all subject areas reveals just how ludicrous this policy really is. The 85 percent rule is not mandated by the State Education Department. It is nothing more than a local decision affecting only Schreiber students. Other nearby high schools do not have such a strict, inflexible attendance policy. Some schools such as East Williston don't require any class time be made up. The 85 percent rule should be modified so that it doesn't hurt innocent students. There needs to be compassion, not punishment.
Victor Hugo once wrote, "He who opens a school door, closes a prison." It's important to keep the school door open, but the messages that students receive after the door shuts behind them are equally important.
Wesley I. Berkowitz, PhD