Board member Craig Sellers said during Monday night’s Dixon R-I School Board meeting that he didn’t understand why school policies bar students who miss large numbers of class sessions from making up their classes.
“I don’t see how that could possibly help any kid in our school,” Sellers said. “A kid’s grades ought to be based on what he knows. I think they ought to do their work, maybe do extra work. Most kids who are missing 20 days aren’t going to do their work, but there may be some.”
Dixon Elementary School Principal Joyce Shepherd explained that giving students grades of zero for work required on days when they have longstanding unexcused absences is one of the few ways to “put teeth” into the district’s mandatory attendance policy.
“It’s just very difficult when you’re missing excessive amounts of days to have the child function,” Shepherd said. “My philosophy is if they are missing that many days, they are missing a lot of work. There are always circumstances, they may be hospitalized.”
Extenuating circumstances should be submitted to an appeals committee for review, Shepherd said.
Superintendent Dawna Burrow said she also had concerns about the policy.
“What if the eleventh day was a legitimate day and they bring a doctor’s note?” Burrow asked.
Shepherd said those situations need to be handled on a case-by-case basis through the appeals committee, and said the current situation isn’t good. Matters have gotten to the point in Dixon that some parent are letting their students sleep in and don’t appear to care whether they attend school or not, she said.
“We had kids who missed like 14 days and they got to make up all their work and they got an A in the class,” Shepherd said. “There’s no way to enforce an attendance policy if we have no leverage. The only thing they care about is passing to the next grade.”
Dixon Middle School Principal Jim Brown said the key to making the policy work is the role of the attendance committee. Once a parent comes in and meets with the attendance committee, the zero grades can be waived if the student makes up the required homework, Brown said.
Sellers wasn’t convinced.
“Kids like that need help, not hindering, and this policy is doing nothing but hindering,” Sellers said.
Board member Danny Miller said the policy seems to target the wrong people.
“It’s almost like you’re penalizing the child when you should be penalizing the parent,” Miller said.
“Yes, but I can’t penalize the parents,: Shepherd said. “When you have a child who misses 15 days of school and they get an A, it creates a major discipline issue.”
School Board President Troy Porter said there are ways to penalize parents, though Dixon hasn’t chosen to use them.
“Some schools go to the extreme that if the kids don’t go to school the parents go to jail,” Porter said.
Shepherd said that whatever the Dixon district does, it has to prove that attendance is taken seriously.
“We have to make attendance a priority because if we don’t, the juvenile officer is on us,” Shepherd said.