The updated policies, which were approved in first reading, are an attempt to align the school system’s polices with recently passed state laws, according to Wilson County Schools communications director Jennifer Johnson.
The added line to the attendance policy simply said, “All Wilson County Schools will implement a three-tier system to improve student/school attendance.”
According to Wright, the addition acts as a placeholder until an actual three-tier system is talked about and agreed upon, at which time the proposal will come back to the board. The placeholder must exist because of the recently passed state laws that mandate a three-tier policy.
“There’s not a change in the policy,” said Johnson. “The state has passed some laws that go into effect July 1. Every school district has or will incorporate this three-tier system. The Tennessee School Board Association put it together two days ago. We may go with that one or modify it. If we don’t go with theirs, we will pass something similar.”
According to Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright, of the around 18,500 students in Wilson County schools, 592 of them had court involvement because of attendance.
Wilson County attendance director Stan Moss said he believes the new system will benefit students who are in danger of becoming truant, but he admits the policy will place an extra burden on himself and the rest of his staff.
“When we have kids who are missing 15 or 16 unexcused days, you have to have something in place to stop this,” said Moss. “Our goal is to fix the problem and find ways to make kids successful.”
After the work session held Thursday night and the lack of information released about the new system, several parents were upset and took their frustration to the Parents of Wilson County Schools TN Facebook page.
The comments ranged from nurses who sent students home without penalty to the child, to posts about a child who has a medical situation and may miss more than the allotted number of absences.
Wright attempted to alleviate some of the concerns at the meeting Monday night. She emphasized the system would not punish those unable to make it to classes because of chronic illness or a medical condition.
“We take care of our children, and we have allowances to take care of our children,” said Wright. “We have supports in place as far as if they cannot complete a traditional program. We can do it through a 504 program or other alternatives to make sure that they do not follow under anything that might be seen as a punitive measure with attendance.”
Board member Wayne McNeese asked how a parent could go about getting an absence excused if their child is sick, but not sick enough to go to a doctor. He said going to the doctor every time a child got a little bit sick could quickly add up to a large financial burden.
“What I would suggest you do is take your child to the school nurse,” said Moss. “If the nurse sends them home, they will be excused. We’re trying to make sure we help parents out as much as possible.”
Moss outlined Friday in an interview with The Democrat what the three tiers could look like when the policy returns to the board, but he cautioned any or all of the information could change.
According to Moss, if a student reaches tier one, it would likely be due to three unexcused absences. A parent would be required to meet with the student’s school to review the situation and develop an attendance contract with a review date.
Moss said at tier two, which would likely be after five unexcused absences, or if a parent is in violation of the school attendance contract, alternative actions such as counseling or community-based services for the parent could be considered and implemented. He said this could be due to potential alcohol or drug abuse, homelessness or any number of other unknown issues.
According to Moss, when a student reaches tier three for seven to 10 unexcused absences, it would likely be time to ask whether everything possible was being done. He said a decision would likely be made as to whether to move forward with a petition for court or consider any other available options.
It’s not known when the school board will continue discussion on the three-tier policy it plans to propose.