OPS looks at revising absence rules to allow for more flexibility - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:23 pm
OPS looks at revising absence rules to allow for more flexibility

Omaha Public Schools board members and one parent asked for greater flexibility in the district's attendance policy when it comes to student illnesses and unexcused absences.

The district is considering a revised policy that allows for several new categories of excused absences, including observance of religious holidays, court appearances, college visits, bereavement and the military deployment of a family member.

There are 10 categories of excused and unexcused absences now, a number that could increase to 14 or 15 if the board adopts the new recommended policy. That's down significantly from 1998, when the district allowed 64 reasons for an excused absence, said Matthew Ray, director of family and student services.

Parent Gina Miller said the rule that applies to absences because of illness is frustrating and too strict.

Children who stay home because they are sick are counted as having unexcused absences unless they provide a doctor's note or are sent home by a school nurse.

“At some point the district has to start trusting parents,” Miller said. “It's not a 'gotcha' game, where 'You can bring me documentation to prove your child was sick.' ”

Several school board members also asked why a doctor's note was required.

Board Vice President Lou Ann Goding said she'd like to see the district draft a more “family-friendly” policy that didn't get bogged down in strict requirements.

“Every time your child is sick you're not going to run to the doctor's office to get a note,” she said. “It doesn't always warrant going to the doctor.”

Board member Yolanda Williams said more consideration is needed for students who might miss school because of chronic illnesses such as asthma.

An open-ended doctor's note is a possibility for asthmatics, Ray said, but it might be too much of a catch-all.

The board took no action on the proposed policy at Monday's meeting.

On the state level, a parents group is lobbying to repeal Nebraska's 2010 truancy law, arguing that too many families have landed in court because of attendance requirements.

The law requires schools to refer students to the county attorney's office if they have more than 20 absences in a school year.

The Douglas County Attorney's Office receives around 3,000 absentee referrals each year.

The bill's author, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, has said the law is working. It is holding students and their parents accountable for too many missed days of school, he said.

Contact the writer: Erin Duffy

erin.duffy@owh.com    |   402-444-1210

Erin covers education, primarily Omaha Public Schools.

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