Horry County Schools officials discuss attendance policy concerns with parents

08/15/2014 6:28 AM

08/15/2014 8:27 PM

A group of Horry County parents say they soon may approach state legislators seeking changes to the school district’s attendance policies.

Four parents discussed the current policy and attendance intervention plans (AIPs) with Horry County School District officials and the Carolina Forest Advisory Board on Thursday during a meeting in the community room at Carolina Forest High School. The meeting was prompted by a petition.

Nicole Couilliard, a mother of three kids, was among five parents with children at Ocean Bay Elementary School in Carolina Forest who started a petition which as of Thursday had 1,643 signatures.

Couilliard’s two daughters will be at Ocean Bay Elementary this year while her son, who is on an AIP, will enter Ocean Bay Middle School. She said policies are too strict.

The petition says the policy of putting children on an attendance intervention plan after three consecutive, or five total, unexcused absences is unreasonable.

Karen Fowler, attendance coordinator for the district, explained to the parents that the policy in Horry County is state law and the county can’t address concerns over the number of allowed unexcused absences.

“It is not a school choice or a principal choice,” Fowler said. “It is South Carolina law.”

There apparently also is confusion over the number of unexcused absences students can have.

Fowler explained school policy and state law state that an elementary student who misses more than 10 days of school will not advance to the next grade. But, all students are considered truant if they has three consecutive, or five total, unlawful absences and Folwer said the state requires the school to intervene with the AIP.

Daryl Brown, executive director of student affairs for Horry County Schools, said a task force addressing attendance was created last October when the district realized too many kids were late or missing school days.

Chief among problems identified by the task force was communication, and Brown said parents should notice improvements in communication of policies and problems this school year.

Sara Brallier, who also initiated the petition, said another issue is AIPs that aren’t individualized and a one size fits all approach isn’t working.

Brown and Fowler said the plan is meant to be individualized and the district will be speaking with principals to review procedures and will ensure all policies are enforced consistently.

Once on an AIP, students cannot be tardy, absent or dismissed early without doctor’s notices. Brallier and Couilliard call that unfair.

“I have insurance,” Brallier said. “So, for me that’s just annoying. But there are families who might not have insurance and can’t afford to take their child to the doctor, exposing them to other illnesses, just to get a doctor’s note.”

Beth McNew, a mother of two children, complained the policy is too extreme.

“The problem with [AIPs] is we aren’t planning for our kids to get sick,” she said. “By coming up with a plan, we can’t keep the germs away. More kids are coming to school sick.”

When Couilliard spoke about chronic issues her son faces, Brown and Fowler said there is a form that can be submitted at the beginning of the school year. Fowler said it does require a doctor to sign and acknowledge chronic issues, such as severe allergies or migraines, but absences throughout the year due to the conditions documented would be excused.

Couilliard and Brallier want to see AIPs implemented after 10 unexcused absences, and said the plans should run through one school year, not one calendar year.

Both were also encouraged to speak with the school principal first, then approach the district office about their individual issues.

Brown said though the district must follow state law, there can be exceptions case to case.

Couilliard said she wants to first see if Thursday’s discussion leads to improvements or changes. If it’s not enough, she said she’ll take it further.

“I have no problem going to the state legislature, or whoever we need to, at that point,” she said. “And I know a lot of parents will be right behind me doing it.”

To see the petition, visit www.gopetition.com/petitions/horry-county-schools-attendance-policy.html.

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