New school absence policy to affect special-needs students the most
May 25, 2010
By Chantelle Lusebrink
Issaquah School District officials have made changes to the attendance policy relating to excused and unexcused absences that will impact families who plan tutoring or regularly scheduled appointments for their children during the school day.
“We want our kids at school,” said Marilyn Holm, director of special education. “We are pleased to have our parents work with us. If there are special circumstances, we will consider those on an individual basis.”
School officials sent a letter to parents of children registered in the district’s special-needs programs May 21 explaining the changes, since it will predominately affect them.
The changes will be in place at the beginning of the school year to allow families to make alternate arrangements or get additional prescriptions before then.
Children with special needs often have many prescribed medical appointments that are covered by the excused absences category, Holm said.
But in recent years, district officials said they have noticed an increase in appointments during the school day that aren’t medically necessary or prescribed.
“We’ve always had many but there just seems to be more and more, mainly in special education, but in other areas as well,” Holm said. “Parents are pulling their children out of school for occupational therapy or physical therapy, vision therapy, counseling and even tutoring.”
That’s problematic because district officials are obligated to report excused and unexcused absences and truancies to the state, said Sara Niegowski, district communications director.
“It is the law for children to be in school,” she said. “We believe actually being present in school is the No. 1 factor to being successful in school.”
The problem hasn’t been with medically necessary appointments since the school’s faculty knows about them ahead of time through the student’s Individualized Education Plan, Holm said.
Those plans are required by law and allow schools, doctors and parents to work together to advance the education and quality of life for a child with special needs.
School officials meet similarly to help accommodate students who have been in severe accidents or have illnesses.
The problem has become the amount of appointments that aren’t prescribed.
In some cases, parents have scheduled their children, both special needs and regular students, to be out of school for a half-day every week, because it’s easier to make appointments during the day, Niegowski said. The appointments range from supplemental tutoring to optional therapies.
Some families not only take children with special needs out of class, but also pull children in regular classrooms out since it’s easier not to come back to school.
For all students, missing class time means falling behind on a lesson, putting them at a disadvantage to their peers. School officials also question whether having students in school wouldn’t negate the necessity of having a tutor.
“We do understand that as a family you may make decisions which will allow your child to access important community opportunities,” Holm wrote in her letter. “However, having your student in school full time is a high priority for us.”
If nonmedical appointments can’t be changed to outside the hours of the school day, then parents should contact district officials to schedule a meeting to discuss new arrangements.
Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.
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