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Wilton Tacks On Points To Track Student Absences

WILTON, Conn. – Family vacations were once considered excused absences in Wilton Public Schools, but they will no longer have that distinction under the Connecticut State Board of Education’s new and more rigid definitions for excused and unexcused absences.

The state had no consistent definition for excused absences until now. The new definitions, adopted at the board's most recent meeting, are part of an effort by the state Department of Education to collect and publish comparable data on truancy. According to the state, current law defines truant as a student who has four unexcused absences in a month or 10 unexcused absences in a year.

In Wilton, the high school also has its own point-based system of tracking absences.

“The variance among definitions of absences at the district level has made it extremely difficult to create, and report on, reliable data on truancy, one of the department’s statutory responsibilities,” Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a statement. The action “will preserve local decision-making while ensuring that families with children at risk of truancy receive the supports they need in the most timely manner.”

Under state rules, a student may miss up to nine days of school for illnesses, religious holidays, death in the family, mandated court appearances, a lack of transportation normally provided by a district or “extraordinary education opportunities” that have been preapproved by district administrators. Absences as a result of school or district disciplinary action – such as suspensions – will also be considered excused.

A student’s absence from school will be considered excused only if written documentation of the reason for the absence has been submitted within 10 days of a student’s return to school.

Wilton High School uses a point system to track absences. Qualifying excused absences, which count for one point, include family vacations, late arrivals or early dismissals for non-school-related activities, routine medical or dental appointments and college visits beyond the three that are normally allowed. Unexcused absences are three points. If a student gets eight points in a class in a quarter, he or she loses a quarter of credit for that class.

Excused absences include illness, a death or critical illness in the family, appointments with school counselors or administrators and school-related activities such as for trips or athletics. Unexcused absences have to be explained within a week. Wilton High students and parents can check online for their absence and tardiness records.

The point system has been in place for the past three years, Wilton High Principal Bob O’Donnell said, although the policies on absences have been around for several years.

The students have become used to the point system, and the faculty likes it, O’Donnell said. “When you have an attendance policy, you want to be fair to the student and parent community,” he said. “You want to make sure they know where they stand.”

School officials see that students work hard and often catch up on work if they miss a class, but it can still cause issues for teachers, O’Donnell said.

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