Here are some key points to keep in mind regarding attendance policies:
- A school's primary obligation is the education of its students.
- A school must set reasonable expectations for student behavior, including school attendance, and may impose reasonable sanctions when those expectations are not met, subject to provision of legal due process.
- For a secondary student, failure to attend school may be considered as behavior that is subject to disciplinary sanctions. For secondary students less than 16 years of age and their parents, school attendance is a legal obligation. Those over compulsory attendance age who have not dropped out may still be held to the school's local policy on attendance.
- Students should not be subject to sanctions for failure to attend school if lack of attendance is beyond the control of the student. Some absence should be excused without disciplinary penalty. Illness, school sponsored trips, court appearances, or "unavoidable" occurrences would be examples of excused absences. It is also reasonable to require a doctor's verification of the illness in some circumstances. It is not reasonable to do so in every case since to do so may work a hardship on families with limited or no insurance or families with working parents. Additionally, if a student has frequent absences or prolonged absences due to illness, the district is advised to determine whether or not the student has a handicap or disability under the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
- Schools may define by policy what are excused and unexcused absences. The determination of whether an absence is excused is made by the school, not by the parent.
- Excused and unexcused absences should not be combined for the imposition of sanctions under an attendance policy.
- A school board may adopt a number of "allowable" unexcused absences. Five to seven absences per semester would not seem to be unreasonably low, although this number must be set locally.
- Significant lack of attendance in a course of study might reasonably be expected to negatively affect academic performance which would negatively affect a student's grade in that course. Grade reductions may result from absences in the following situations:
- Failure to attend make-up sessions as assigned for the completion of make-up work (all students must be given the opportunity to make up missed classwork);
- If points or percentages for attendance and participation are given, the denial of those points or percentages for absenteeism is a reasonable practice.
- Additional work may be assigned to compensate for class time lost due to absences. However, the failure to complete make-up assignments satisfactorily within a reasonable time is a separate act and constitutes grounds for reduced credit.
- The report card should indicate whether grades have been reduced for absences. This answers the criticism that a district's grading system is a misrepresentation of the students' academic achievement.
- An attendance policy may provide that students will receive no credit after exceeding a number of unexcused absences. Any attendance policy providing that students may be dropped from a class because of excessive unexcused absences should make reasonable provisions for alternative classes or activities within the parameters of the district's resources. The total number of absences that result in being dropped from a class or being given "no-credit" should be "reasonable." Dropping a student from a program after fewer than five or six absences appears to be an unreasonable sanction.
Closing/Realigning Attendance Centers
Districts continue to face tough choices about whether to close one or more attendance centers or to realign the grade levels in existing attendance centers.
This is a reminder that in 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the “Barker guidelines” (the procedural steps to be followed by a local school board) were void. These rules no longer exist.
Therefore, when facing such decisions, a local board may follow the procedural steps, but if a parent appeals the decision, the local board’s decision will not be judged on whether it followed any or all of the steps. The appeal will be based solely on whether the local board abused its discretion. This means that if a reasonable person could have found credible evidence supporting the school district's decision, the decision must be affirmed. For a more full discussion, see http://educateiowa.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=791<emid=1339