MERIDEN — The Board of Education is considering a proposal to temporarily allow an automatic attendance waiver for high school students who have missed no more than a quarter of their required class time for one or more courses this school year, and are maintaining passing grades.
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal during its in-person meeting on Tuesday. The public can attend through the Google Meet video conferencing platform. The meeting starts at 6 p.m., and can be accessed through the Meriden Public Schools website: https://www.meridenk12.org/.
During a school year reshaped significantly by the ongoing pandemic, students either attend courses in-person every other day in a hybrid schedule, or attend entirely online, from home.
Meriden Public Schools attendance data shows one out of every three students at both Platt and Maloney high schools have accumulated enough unexcused absences in one or more courses that they exceed the district’s attendance policy. Students therefore run the risk of not receiving credit for those courses.
According to the district’s current attendance policy, students missing more than 13 days of class time in a full-year course and more than six days in a semester-long course triggers automatic failures in the courses, even if they’ve otherwise received a passing grade. In order to gain credit, students need to seek waivers from school administrators.Absences increased, but learning continued
Attendance data school officials shared with the Board of Education’s policy committee during its April 27 meeting showed a significant number of high school students had missed at least 14 days in one or more classes so far this year. At the same time, those students have kept up with coursework and are maintaining passing grades.
For example, data showed the absences at Platt had accumulated so significantly that 483 students would stand to fail 900 full-year classes based on attendance, not academic performance. At Maloney, those absences would lead to 433 students receiving no credit for 731 full-year classes. The figures do not include courses that are a semester-long. Data showed hundreds of students could receive no credit for those courses as well.
At both schools the vast majority of students who accumulated absences exceeding current attendance policy for year-long courses had missed at least 14 days, but no more than 30 days in those courses.
Platt Principal Daniel Corsetti, who spoke with the Record-Journal two days after the policy committee meeting, said student attendance is always a concern. That didn’t change during this school year. But school and local health officials were cautious about limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools, advising students to stay home if they experience cold-like symptoms, like sniffles or a dry cough. In past years, educators would have encouraged students with mild symptoms to come to school.
“We asked them to stay home if they didn’t feel well. If they had a sniffle, stay home. That’s counterintuitive, right?” Corsetti said. “We asked them to do that — and then we start seeing the absences start to pile up. Then we realize we have this issue where hundreds of kids could lose credit who are passing classes and doing the work.”
He described the effort to keep students engaged as having been “all hands on deck” all year — including home visits, letters and phone calls to families.
Corsetti said he and Maloney Principal Jennifer Straub discussed the attendance issue. It wasn’t long before they realized they needed to bring it to central office administrators and to the school board as a temporary policy proposal.Concerns about lowered expectations
Board members who spoke during the policy committee meeting raised some concerns, including whether granting temporary blanket waivers might signal lowered academic expectations. But overall, board members appeared to support the proposal’s intent.
Rebecca Wronski, one of those board members, said she is in favor of supporting students who have worked hard to earn the credit.
“That is the piece — that they’ve done the work,” Wronski said. However, she doesn’t want to see the policy proposal set a precedent around attendance, especially for freshmen and sophomores.
“I can understand this year, the circumstances with the pandemic. But I don’t want that to become precedent for future years,” Wronski said.
Wronski said she would like the younger students to understand that under more typical circumstances, “missing classes is not acceptable.”
The waiver, if adopted, would apply only to students who are receiving passing grades.
“If they’re passing a class, they’re doing the work. If they have missed 45 days or fewer, then they would get a waiver on their attendance and still earn credit,” Corsetti said.
Administrators, like Corsetti, would still need to sign off on waivers for the smaller group of students who’ve missed 45 days or more, and are still earning passing grades. That could include entering into an agreement with students and their families, requiring summer school or another intervention plan.
According to language in the proposed temporary waiver, which would be applicable only to the current school year, the proposal would apply to students who have maintained at least a D average, but missed no more than 23 days for a semester-long class, or 46 days for a year-long class.
In a more typical school year, students wanting attendance waivers would need to seek them from school administrators, who would set up time to meet with students and their families to discuss the scenarios that led to the accumulated absences. Need to be flexible
Educators described a challenging year that required students and teachers to be flexible.
Gary Maratea, who chairs Platt’s math department, explained a challenge teachers sought to address was prioritizing math skills students needed to be taught.
“What are the essential skills students need to pass the SATs?” Maratea said.
Maratea acknowledged the challenges posed by the rotating schedules of remote and in-person learning. One thing that has helped is the district was an early adopter of using technology, like Chromebooks, to aid instruction.
“Kids are comfortable with technology. It’s a different way to learn,” Maratea said.
He explained technology allowed teachers and students some flexibility. Teaching and learning doesn’t need to happen solely during traditional school hours.
For example, Maratea pointed out, teachers are posting videos of classroom instruction online for students to review as often as they need.
“I’ve never seen more teachers posting videos to Google Classroom. So kids can go back and watch that video, and see what their teacher is doing,” Maratea said. “They can do it at home, instead of at school.”
Joseph Laskowski teaches math at Platt, primarily Algebra 1 and geometry to freshmen and sophomores.
Some students have a natural propensity for those subjects. For other students, grasping algebraic and geometric concepts requires more time. During a time when students and teachers are juggling a complex schedule of in-person and remote learning, his focus is on helping students master concepts and not how long that mastery takes.
Laskowski said he has been able to help students one-on-one remotely. He asks students to share their screens. They work through the problems together.
“If a student shows they learned the material, they earned the grade. That gets down to whether we’re doing our best to hold the content constant,” Laskowski said. Educators absent too
District data showed it’s not just students missing class time. Educators accumulated more absences as well. Data showed 250 certified staff members, about 36%, of the district’s total workforce of 695, had missed at least 14 days this year.
Meriden Federation of Teachers President Lauren Mancini-Averitt explained educators have faced challenges similar to students.
“A lot of teachers have been quarantined due to families being sick, or their children being sick,” Mancini-Averitt said. In many cases, teachers have had to stay home because their children’s districts had to close in-person learning. In other cases, their day cares had closed.
“So we’ve had teachers who had to take days because their own kids are home,” she said.
Mancini-Averitt is among those who back the proposal for blanket attendance waivers.
“We’re in a pandemic and students are frankly doing their best to get to school,” she said.
Remote learning days have posed a challenge for educators tracking attendance and student engagement throughout the year.
“We, according to regulations, have to take attendance everyday,” Mancini-Averitt said. Students are expected to complete assignments and participate on those remote days.
“Some students aren’t doing work. Some students aren’t logging in,” she said. So the reality is they are marked absent.
“It’s easy to exceed the 14 day requirement if they don’t log in. This attendance policy shouldn’t prevent them from earning an A, B. or C. We have all these students who are earning credit. We should let them,” Mancini-Averitt said.
In response to concerns about whether academic expectations have lowered, Mancini-Averitt said those expectations remain unchanged. And teachers retain autonomy over their gradebooks.
“Have we adapted the curriculum in the pandemic? Yes. But we haven’t lowered standards,” she said.