School Committee members have promised to take a closer look at the high school’s E-policy, where students automatically receive an E grade of 60 percent in a class if they have more than two unexcused absences during a quarter.
The committee heard testimony from over a dozen students, teachers, and caregivers at its first regularly scheduled meeting of the new school year on Thursday, Sept. 1.
Many of the comments centered on the attendance policy being unfair, confusing, inequitable, and a detriment for students dealing with mental health issues.
“I would first like to acknowledge the youth that are here tonight and how they inspire me every day at CHS,” said high school history teacher Ilana Ascher. “My students last year expressed many concerns about the e-policy, and they did express their concerns in multiple meetings, and sadly, there has been no change this school year to the E attendance policy. The E-policy is a get-tough mandate and does little to reduce absences or truancy.”
Ascher also said that the coding of absences as excused or unexcused can be arbitrary and biased.
“I had a student who had only three unexcused absences for quarter three and quarter four, no excused absences,” Ascher said. “Instead of the B that she earned both quarter three and quarter four, she received a 60 for my class last year. Is this fair that the student showed complete mastery of my class and her grade and her GPA drops this drastically due to only being absent six days in a 90 day schedule?”
A number of Chelsea High School students relayed similar stories, and several noted that while there is a policy to appeal the unexcused absences, the process is not well publicized and can be confusing and contradictory, pointing out that the E grades cannot be revised for the fourth quarter.
“I’d like to describe my experience with the E-policy as a rollercoaster because you’ll never know what you’ll expect,” said Jaiven Diaz, a junior at Chelsea High. “My personal experience with the E-policy started my sophomore year in the first quarter when I had received my report card and that was the first time that I was notified that I had received an E. My teacher did not tell me, I was unsure of how many unexcused absences we were supposed to have.”
Diaz said his counselor told him that a decision on the grade had not been made yet, but that he had met the criteria for receiving an E.
“I thought that was wrong, because I was not getting a definitive answer and I’m left with questions,” said Diaz. “I went to the Chelsea High website to see if there was information on there as well, and there was not.”
City Councilor Judith Garcia said she was proud of the courage of the students who spoke up about how the attendance policy has failed them.
“I am here to say, as School Committee members, I ask you, many of you who have advocated so much for mental health services and expanding and bettering our schools, take a moment to really listen to these stories and take action upon it, because it takes a lot of courage to come up here and speak,” said Garcia. “They’re here because they believe, and they know the power of organizing and really fighting for something that is affecting not only them, but affecting other students and their peers in ways that are unfathomable.”
School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia said the committee sees and hears the concerns of the students and promised to work together with them to find an equitable solution to the issues of the attendance policy, including holding focus groups and subcommittee meetings to consider changes.
School Committee member Roberto Jimenez-Rivera said that in considering changes, the committee will also need to have data on the E-policy and who it affects.
“I want to make sure we are actually having conversations around what are the alternatives to make sure that we actually come up with solutions and make sure that we can move something forward,” he said. “This is not supposed to be a punitive policy, but we can see the damage that is being done and I want to make sure we are exploring how do we allow educators to use their expertise to support students, to make sure there is flexibility.”
Statement from Todd Taylor, candidate for state representative
The following statement was issued by Todd Taylor who will be on the ballot in the November Election for the State Representative seat:
“I want to congratulate Councilor Judith Garcia on her win in the Democrat Primary, and I look forward to a vigorous and productive dialogue regarding the very real problems that Chelsea and Everett face during the next stage of this campaign. I also want to say how much I respect both Councilor Leo Robinson and School Committee member Roberto Jimenez-Rivera for their commitment to Chelsea and all their hard work on its behalf.
I want to make sure that I am crystal clear that my campaign is a bipartisan campaign made up of people who belong to almost every political faction in Chelsea who want to solve the problems of Chelsea in an intelligent and practical way. This campaign is not about party, its about people. If elected, I will approach this legislative seat much like I have used my city council seat: I will be as nonpartisan as I can while being totally focused on how I can obtain the aid and resources that Chelsea desperately needs. We need a leader for this seat, someone who has the requisite life experience and education to understand how to successfully solve problems, work with their counterparts across the aisle and create compromise that works for everyone.
I am completely unconnected to any other interest or institution in Chelsea, I derive none of my income from any other institution or interest in Chelsea (other than my City Council salary of $14,000/year), so I will not be obligated to any powerful interests inside Chelsea and will be able to act with fairness and equity for all. No one will work harder or be more dedicated to Chelsea than I. I will not just do what I am told, but I will think outside the box and seek innovative solutions to our problems. I make this solemn promise: I will be a pragmatic problem-solver, not a partisan politician. I will not be afraid to vote with Democrats when they have good ideas or if Chelsea and Everett will benefit from the legislation. I will be a uniter, not a divider. I will always act with Honesty, Integrity & Transparency! My allegiance is 100% to Chelsea and Everett, to people over politics. Please become a part of something that can transform our community and bring us all together. To join my campaign, please contact me at 617-872-3174 or go to toddforrep.com.