After a number of meetings with students, staff, and families, a change is on the way for Chelsea High’s attendance policy.
At last week’s School Committee meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta announced that a new policy will be discussed at a future School Committee subcommittee meeting, with a goal of implementing the policy in January. In addition, Abeyta said the E-policy, which limits students to a grade of 60 if they have three or more unexplained absences in a quarter, would be suspended for the first two quarters of the school year.
“There has been a lot of going back and forth and listening, and we said we would listen and we are taking everything in,” said Abeyta. “We are ready to make some recommendations, and that will take place at our next subcommittee meeting.”
During a process that has included a half-dozen meetings and a survey over the past two months, Abeyta said school officials have heard positive and negative feedback about the E-policy.
On the negative side, Abeyta said she has heard that the policy can seem punitive and is unfair to students who would otherwise earn high grades.
“Someone with a 92 average loses 32 points compared to someone with a 64 who only loses four points,” Abeyta said.
Abeyta also noted that the current policy does not provide the ability for students to appeal an E after the school year ends.
“But on the other hand, we have heard that the policy is fair and flexible and that the policy holds students accountable for coming to school,” said Abeyta.
Abeyta noted that the final draft of the new policy has to be revised and presented to the School Committee for a vote, and if approved, will go into effect for the third quarter in January.
“Due to the policy revision, we are waiving the current E-policy for the first and second quarter, and the new attendance policy will go into effect in the third quarter,” she said.
During the public speaking portion of the School Committee meeting on Nov. 9, the students who spoke were without a doubt on the side of wanting revisions to the attendance policy.
Several noted that the policy is unfair to students with mental health issues, those who have to work to help support their families, and can be confusing and seemingly arbitrary to try to appeal.
One Chelsea High senior noted that she received an E last year because she had to work two jobs, and wasn’t able to get up for early classes after getting home at three in the morning.
Loren Sokol, a social worker at La Colaborativa, said the attendance policy can also lead to students being prohibited from taking part in athletics and other extracurricular activities.
“One of the most useful tools I’ve used in therapy is student participation in extracurricular activities,” said Sokol. “It’s a huge protective factor for a lot of our students, particularly sports, and it really concerns me that students who are already struggling to attend school are now losing that protective factor because of the E-policy.”