The Nettle Creek school board approved a new attendance policy for Hagerstown Jr.-Sr. High School in a special meeting on June 28.

The policy removes a requirement that some board members had objected to when Principal Josh Hallatt presented a revised student attendance policy on June 14. It would have required students to present a doctor’s note after five absences due to illness.

With no discussion, the board voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the revised HJSHS student handbook with the new policy. Board members Marcie Houghton and Cody Sankey were absent.

Two weeks earlier, Hallatt explained reasons for the policy change. He said attendance patterns have changed since the pandemic, with more parents telling the school attendance desk that their student was missing school due to illness. Some board members said then that requiring a doctor’s note after five illnesses was too strict.

In the 2022-23 school year, 275 HJSHS students had at least three absences for illness with no documentation; 171 students had five such absences; seven had 20 or more; and one had 48, Hallatt said.

Hallatt, who did not attend last week’s meeting, said that besides students missing classroom instruction, teachers also “deal with an overwhelming amount of late work.” 

The attendance policy includes a series of actions that the school will take for unexcused absences.

Excused absences – for which a student may make up missed classwork – include the following: personal illness with a doctor’s or parent’s note; a certificate of incapacity; death in the immediate family; emergency illness or injury in the family; religious observance; medical or dental appointment; serving as a page or honoree in the Indiana General Assembly; witness or party in judicial proceedings; helper to a political candidate or party, or to a precinct election board on an election date; National Guard duty; conditional absences approved by the principal or assistant; or educationally related non-classroom activities.

All other absences are unexcused. Students may get a zero for missed classwork. After six unexcused absences, a student may be assigned to after-school detention.

The policy includes a new statement that a student with poor attendance might not qualify for vocational opportunities. After three unexcused absences, the school will notify parents by phone and a letter. The policy outlines other actions the school will take for unexcused absences, including an attendance review and implementation of a contract for attendance. Ten or more unexcused absences in a class may result in the student losing credit for that class. Loss of credit in half or more of a student’s classes may result in a request for expulsion being made to the superintendent.

The board took no other action June 28. It had approved the Hagerstown Elementary School student handbook on June 14.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12, in the HES LGI room, 299 N. Sycamore St. The public may attend.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 5 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.