A major city school district is relaxing rules and updating it's attendance policy to try to keep kids coming to school.
The Newark School District in New Jersey is updating its attendance policy to be more understanding of students’ individual issues. This comes as chronic absenteeism plagues the country and public school enrollment continues to decline. The new requirements were approved by the Newark Board of Education, Tuesday, and will accompany new discipline and graduation policies as well.
The former attendance policy led to a large number of disciplinary actions and suspensions. Students were even held back if they missed too much class. Now that criteria has been abolished.
Many students have varying reasons for absences. It is often not their fault, but situational — especially in the case of young children. Instead of just marking students as absent, the new attendance policy directs them to use a code that determines the reason behind missing class (if it is given). Students who miss school because of bus or public transportation issues, health conditions, and home or family issues will no longer be given suspensions as easily.
One board member noted that by offering more personal understanding, schools are hoping to offer underprivileged students more opportunities and shut down the school-to-prison pipeline, but some are wondering how absent students, who continue to miss class, can keep up and learn properly without meeting a standard attendance policy. Traditionally parents could call in or have students turn in a note to excuse tardiness or missing school. Whether the Newark School District will require this or not has not been released. What’s more, requirements for students’ grooming and clothing standards are being modernized.
While hoodies have been banned in the past, they will now be allowed in class. Other prohibited items will now be allowed on campus, and students will not be consulted regarding dress and grooming requirements. This relaxed approach is in an effort to draw students to come to class and further their education, much like the new attendance policy.
The biggest change, though, comes to graduation requirements. During the 2021-2022 school year a new policy required graduating students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by June 1st in order to encourage them to go to college. Many students were unable to meet the deadline, and so this has been removed in addition to strict attendance policy rules.
How these changes will affect student outcomes is uncertain, but many school officials are excited to update their attendance policy, dress code, and graduation requirements in order to better serve students. While some believe that relaxing rules and school criteria lead to less classroom control and further issues between families and the schools that serve them, the fact of the matter is that public schools are struggling. They cannot keep attendance up, and are therefore losing funding. Without realistic budgets, downsizing issues occur. While the teaching profession itself is facing the brunt of the worker shortage, ensuring that students feel welcome in class and want to excel is a goal of many districts. How changing the attendance policy will aid the situation remains uncertain and the results will likely be revealed at the end of the next school year.