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Westport Schools Ahead Of The Curve On Absence Policy

WESTPORT, Conn. – Family vacations are not considered excused absences in Westport. And beginning next school year, the rest of the state will follow suit now that the State Board of Education adopted more rigid definitions for excused and unexcused absences .

Until now, the state had no consistent definition for excused absences. 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.

“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 Westport’s absence policy, the following are considered excused districtwide: student illness, death or critical illness in the family, response to a legal process, religious observance and a medical appointment that can’t be scheduled outside of the school day. At Staples, there are additional excused absences, including up to two preplanned college visits for juniors and seniors.

Absences that don’t fall under the above categories are unexcused, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said. Also, any absences not verified by a parent will be marked as unexcused. This includes excused absences not verified by a note or telephone call.

“We’re pretty strict on that because we know that attendance is correlated with student achievement and learning,” Landon said.

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.

With regard to the state’s new policy, Landon said he is not yet sure whether it will affect Westport's policy.

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