The New Attendance Policy
BY EMILY XU '23
On December 13, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School piloted its new attendance policy to mitigate the number of tardies and absences—which has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. From now on, students who acquire two unexcused absences or three unexcused tardies will have to meet with their dean and spend one lunch period in detention. ABRHS administrators, including Principal Joanie Dean, believe that this policy will reinforce classroom expectations through a structured system.
Although the rise in absences is not a dramatic change, Ms. Dean still emphasizes the importance of being present—physically and mentally—in a classroom setting. “We want to make sure that when students are part of a classroom community, they feel that it’s important to be there. [If you’re going] in and out of the classroom, it’s almost like you’re not there sometimes,” she said. She believes that having both a physical and cognitive presence in these classroom communities will help students find greater value in their classmates and interpersonal relationships.
Ms. Dean noted the fluidity in routine that accompanied the post-pandemic schooling environment: “Last year we were remote, then hybrid, then we were back in school for a short amount of time. The year before, we went remote starting in March. [A year and a half] is a huge amount of developmental time, so the structure and the consistency around expectations, attendance, and being in school are a little more fluid because there weren’t habits around.” She believes that the new policy will clarify teachers’ expectations and delineate the consequences transparently.
When discussing the consequences of a violation of the attendance policy, Ms. Dean believes that the most important is the conversation between dean and student, further highlighting the importance of interpersonal relationships. Before students attend their mandated lunch detention, they meet with their dean to discuss possible reasons for their absences. Ms. Dean explained that they included this conversation to administer fairer punishments to students.
“Their dean asks them…what things we can do to support them, and honestly, that has been the best outcome of this attendance policy,” said Ms. Dean. She adds that because poor attendance is often linked with veiled reasons, finding the connection between attendance and an underlying issue can help students find a support system within the school that works for them.
The lunch detention, which follows the conversation with the student’s dean, holds students accountable for their absences by having them sacrifice their own time. Because of planning conflicts, administrators would have difficulty implementing an after-school detention, but they still felt that students should relinquish their own time, which administrators deemed a fair penalty for missing class and ultimately harming their education.
Logistical reasons wedge some uncertainty into the policy: parts of it are still subject to change, particularly the timeframe for these absences. Ms. Dean notes that because the attendance has just been implemented, they’re currently only focusing on attendance within a 5–10 day span. As the year progresses though, if administration decides to look at attendance beyond just one week, they may need to increase the threshold of absences and tardies that lead to punishments.
Ms. Dean hopes that the attendance policy will establish accountability and structure at ABRHS. Above all, Ms. Dean reiterates, “Equally as important is if students are not attending classes, we want to know why and how we can help. [This way, we can promote] emotional and educational growth.”