ToquiNotes: After Principal DeFazio Breaks out New BHS Attendance Policy, State Makes Change of Own

By Jeff Toquinto on August 05, 2017 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what will get the attention of folks. Sometimes it’s not that hard.
 
And then there’s the ones you’re not sure about. Such was the case last week when I wrote a blog on the Bridgeport High School Administration’s new attendance policy.
 
While I was sure that it would have an audience from the BHS student body and parents – and a few educational curiosity seekers – I had no idea the interest would be what it ended up being. After a few days, more than 10,000 people had clicked on the story and there were hundreds of points of feedback on Connect-Bridgeport’s various social media platforms.
 
There was positive feedback, negative feedback and your typical feedback that appears occasionally atht made me for a few moments lose faith in humanity. BHS Principal Mark DeFazio, who is not on social media, did learn of the comments and laughed when told about some.
 
Then, however, he let me in on something regarding attendance that coincided at just about the same time as the information was being released on Bridgeport High School’s new attendance policy last week. The State of West Virginia, according to DeFazio, has issued an edict regarding absences as well.
 
This one, however, doesn’t just impact Bridgeport. It’s the educational law of the land for BHS, all schools in Harrison County and every school throughout the state. And it’s going into place starting this school calendar year.
 
“The state has come out with state code, which says students now have only three days after their absence to turn in excuses. They have in capital letters, no exceptions,” said DeFazio. “We’ve been told how to handle this and we’ve been told how to do it correctly.”
 
Bridgeport’s current policy calls for students upon returning to school after absences to have a parental or doctor’s note turned in within five days. Now, the state has changed it to three days and DeFazio said the school will be following protocol set by the state because it’s required and because he and his administration don’t want to have to deal with consequences for not following rules.
 
“Absences, if it becomes a situation with truancy or something of that nature, leads to court hearings,” said DeFazio. “That’s why we’re doing it exactly as prescribed, along with it’s the law. If absences lead to a problem and we’ve not done it correctly then chances are an administrator will have to go before a judge and answer questions. I don’t know of anyone here, or for that matter anywhere that wants to go in front of a judge and make excuses as to why we didn’t follow state code relating to notes from parents or doctor’s regarding absences.”
 
So how will BHS track excuses?
 
According to DeFazio, two stamps have been purchased. Both are date stamps and when school secretaries receive an absence note they have to date it that it’s been received and accepted if turned in during a timely manner. The note is stamped and saved and DeFazio said students will be given a copy of a time-approved absence if desired.
 
The second stamp is for anyone that brings in a note after the three-day period. It will be stamped “denied,” said DeFazio. Both accepted and denied absence notes will be entered daily into the computer system as they are received.
 
“After three days, those become unexcused absences. People have to understand this is state law,” said DeFazio. “ … The five-day policy we had was Harrison County policy we followed. Since it was a county rule and not a state rule if issues involving absences went to a judge for a hearing the judge would usually allow for notes for absences to come in, say, 50 days late and be accepted. Now, this is state law so it won’t have an exception.”
 
Unexcused absences, said DeFazio, have two real impacts. One involves truancy, which can lead to court proceedings. The other, he said, involves a student losing their driver’s license.
 
“That’s through the DMV and the state,” said DeFazio. “If a student has 15 unexcused absences in a year the DMV can and will take their license. We don’t want to see students lose their license, but with this being state law students will have to be vigilant in getting in their notes from their parents or doctors. The 15 days has already been in place and we’ve seen it happen here and across the state. Now, to avoid that the students just need to get their notes in to us in a timely manner.”
 
DeFazio is not big on internet usage and as mentioned is a no-show on social media. However, he said he doesn’t understand the dismay by some. And at the same time, he can’t worry about it.
 
“From some of what I was told, there are some making a bigger deal of our policy than what it was and I hope they don’t do that here. The biggest thing we’re trying to do is increase attendance and make students come to school because they have to learn to have a better chance at success,” said DeFazio. “ … Yes, we’re concerned about numbers because the more time kids are in school the better chance you have to succeed. We’re also concerned about test scores, graduation rates, and making sure kids are ready to go out in the real world.
 
“These are life skills so if someone is critical of us trying to better those skills by making an effort to get kids to school, so be it. I’ve been in the business for 40 years, and as a coach as well, so I’ve got thick skin,” DeFazio said. “ … Our students, for the most part, know that we care about them and want them to do well. I still don’t see any issues with our policy and I hope they don’t have an issue with the new state law through new state code.”
 
Editor's Note: Top and bottom photos show Mark DeFazio and in the top photo he's reviewing the memorandum explaining new state code relating to absences.


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