So many standard practices for Upshur County School students were upended by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Now we are getting back to basics, including upgrading our attendance policy. “Playing hooky,” while never encouraged, certainly was possible while remote learning from home became standard practice from last March 2020 until now. However, from the March 23rd BOE meeting with the agenda item “Policy #4003 - Attendance Policy - First Reading,” it looks and feels like school is back in session.
Regular attendance increases the likelihood of student success. The delivery of a good formal education is built on a stepwise concept, thus showing up promotes the accomplishment of reaching a student’s learning potential. Becoming a physician meant I stayed the course for 23 years attending class. One of my recurring nightmares centers on the teacher stating, “Put away your books and papers; prepare to take your test!” In my dream I panic because I have no idea what the test is about. I am not prepared. What a horrible feeling!
Another anxiety from childhood was the knowledge that my classmate Louella Wentz’s father, Harvey Wentz, was our Upshur County Schools Truant Officer. Though I had nothing to fear, yet I had a sneaking suspicion that somehow, I was guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ironically, 55 years past high school graduation, Louella organizes our monthly B-UHS Class of 1966 dinners. Usually they are on the same Tuesday evening as our BOE meetings. Therefore, I am truant!
When I practiced medicine taking care of children, I became exquisitely aware of Excused Student Absences including:
1- personal illness or injury of a student;
2- personal illness or injury of the student’s parent, guardian, custodian, or family member;
3- medical appointments;
4- documented chronic medical condition;
5- participation in hospital or home bound instruction;
6- documented disability;
7- death in a family.
Actually, as a physician I became a powerful societal gatekeeper for student absences. The “sick role” strikes me as one of the most defining roles for student success or failure in life.
Policy #4003 spells all the details needed to guide a student and his/her family through the legal parameters to school attendance.
Certainly COVID-19 made for an unusual year for school attendance, yet we still are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. So we have further disruptions in school work for our students who are homeless or in West Virginia’s overburdened foster care system. Truly, my heart aches for these children caught up in a perfect storm of family breakdown, death of responsible adults, and/or abuse and neglect.
Our BOE responsibility is spelled out in Policy #4003. We need a certified, full-time County Social Services and Attendance Director. We rely on our local school principals to know their students’ circumstances. When called upon, we need empathetic magistrate court judges. Actually, I am grateful that our former long-term school board member Alan Suder has stepped into the shoes of a magistrate judge. I wish him well not just for his happiness, but also for the wisdom he will bring to our students’ attendance violations that will be very complex at times.
Finally, as a member of the Upshur County Schools Board of Education, I declare my intention to keep working on ways we can improve school attendance. I relish the opportunity my election provides for our schools to be places of nurture, orderliness, safety, and a stimulating educational environment.
Lesson learned for me can be summarized by a thought expansion from a favorite movie, “Field of Dreams.” There is wisdom in the concept: Let us build our schools to provide our students the education they need to succeed, and they will come! This includes keeping our mission foremost “to provide academic preparation, social responsibility, employability and a desire for lifelong learning.”