By Katina Caraganis

MediaNews

TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional School District Committee is seeking public input on a proposed new high-school attendance policy that drew a lot of concern from committee members at its last meeting.

The North Middlesex Regional School Committee Policy Subcommittee has been revising all district policies for more than a year.

In the proposed policy, any student absent five times in a quarter, or nine times in a semester, will receive no credit for that course. Four tardies to one class will equal one absence.

School Committee member Rob Templeton said that while he understands the need for the structure that policy handbooks provide districts, there is not always a one-size-fits-all policy for attendance.

He said the proposed policy, as laid out, does not address entirely students who are excelling in their classes but have other activities outside the classroom that may take them out of state for a number of reasons.

The policy would allow for certain exemptions, such as a death in the family, professional health appointment, religious holidays or court proceeds, two college visits a year and school-sponsored field trips, as long as proper documentation is provided to justify the absence.

Students who are passing a class but have exceeded the maximum absences would receive an incomplete on his or her report card.

If that happens, students can request an attendance exchange-program contract, which would allow them to complete the work missed outside their regularly scheduled class time.

The policy would mandate they be required to successfully complete a certain number of hours and a performance assessment or online tutorial. Work must be completed at a "proficient" level.

Once the number of hours and assessment have both been completed, the student's grade will be changed to what he or she would have originally earned in the class in question.

Failure to complete either would result in the grade being converted to a withdrawal on the report card.

In the policy currently on the books in the district, students absent for 10 percent or more of course meetings (five in a quarter class, nine in a semester class, and 18 in a full-year credit course), will receive no credit for that course.

An appeal may be lodged with a review committee composed of an administrator, a guidance counselor and a faculty member. The same exemptions apply in the current policy as in the newly proposed policy.

"For someone who may be late once in awhile but otherwise is getting the work done, it's hard to put a once-size-fits-all price on that," said Templeton. "The one thing I'm hesitant about, is it is trying to be black and white?"

He said there are things students may be involved in outside of the classroom that contribute to the overall education of the student, and they should not be penalized for that.

During a recent School Committee meeting, a student said he regularly travels to and competes in national horse shows, and while he has gotten absences for those excused for now, he said they provide him with an enhanced education, and he would not like to see those opportunities go away because of a policy.

Templeton, who has children, agrees.

School Committee Member Randee Rusch, who also serves as chairwoman of the Policy Subcommittee, said the proposal does provide the option for administrators to weight in before a decision is made.

"There is some leeway in there," she said. "It is very much all up to the administration. Special cases can be brought to the administration. Certain situations, like the horse-show example, we can't foresee that. We can't write a policy for every single possibility out there."

The draft policy can be found on the district's website, www.nmrsd.org, and all input can be sent to nlandry@nmrsd.org.

Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.