Students advocate changes to New London school attendance policy

New London — A group of high school students met Tuesday evening with the Board of Education’s Executive Committee to advocate for changes to a district policy they say creates an obstacle to graduation for some students.

Hearing Youth Voices, which describes itself as a youth-led action research group, wants the Board of Education to review and amend the district’s attendance policy to take into consideration input from the students who are affected by it.

“We want to make a change because, at the end of the day, we’re the ones most greatly affected by the policy,” New London High School junior Dimitry Exceus said. “We deserve to have a say in what the policy should be because it is our education and our futures that are affected.”

The students who spoke said the district’s policy — which is nine pages long and was last updated by the Board of Education in 2012 — is confusing and is not explained to them in detail, often resulting in confusion and stress. New London’s policy, the students said, also lacks provisions that are in place at other local schools.

The district’s policy stipulates that a student will lose credit for a class once he or she accrues 10 unexcused absences in one semester, or 20 unexcused absences for a yearlong class — regardless of whether the student earns a passing grade in that class.

The students from Hearing Youth Voices said the issue is not about students who don’t show up for class and don’t do the coursework, but rather students who complete all assignments and pass a course who then lose credit for the class because of too many absences.

“The people we’re advocating for are the students who are passing the class and the only reason they’re losing credit is because of the absences, which is different than those students who are just floating through,” New London High School senior Jazzriel Lara said.

As the policy is currently written, the school is supposed to send a letter to the parent or guardian of any student who has amassed four unexcused absences, and then again after seven unexcused absences, to inform them of “the impact that absences will have on promotion, credit acquisition and/or graduation,” according to the district’s policy.

But the students said such letters are rare and many students don’t learn that they have lost class credit until the following school year and then have to re-enroll in a class they already took and passed, an issue board members agreed should be fixed.

The committee on Tuesday referred the proposed changes to its soon-to-be resurrected Policy Committee, and Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera said he will discuss the proposed changes with his staff and work with the Board of Education to update the policy.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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