By mtjulietintern

Wilson County Board of Education plans to address changes at its Monday meeting

Some Wilson County parents are upset about proposed changes to the Wilson County Board of Education’s attendance policy, because the changes weren’t yet finalized in Thursday’s work session.

The updated policies, which were voted on in a first reading at Monday’s school board meeting, are an attempt to align the school system’s policies with recently passed state laws, according to Wilson County Schools communications director Jennifer Johnson.

“There’s not a change in the policy,” said Johnson. “The state has passed some laws that go into effect July 1. Every school district has or will incorporate this three-tier system. The Tennessee School Board Association put it together two days ago. We may go with that one or modify it. If we don’t go with theirs, we will pass something similar.”
According to the Tennessee School Board Association, Wilson County Schools is not a subscriber to its policies, so the local board can modify it.

Wilson County Schools attendance director Stan Moss said he received the Tennessee School Board Association’s three-tier attendance guidelines two days ago and planned to meet with Director of Schools Donna Wright on Monday before the board meeting to finalize its language for Wilson County Schools.

“It’s not like we’re trying to hide anything,” Moss said. “And it’s not just with our schools. This is happening with every school in Tennessee. What we’re trying to do is adhere to the state law and make it best for the students in Wilson County.”

The entire attendance policy, which was issued in 2004 and revised last year, said all children must attend school on days when school is in session. It also said parents or guardians who don’t adhere to this policy can be charged with a misdemeanor.

The proposed attendance policy changes remain the same as in the past, but adds all schools must use the three-tier policy as required by state law Gov. Bill Haslam signed two weeks ago that will go into effect July 1.

Moss outlined what the three tiers could look like when the policy is presented to the board Monday night, but he cautioned any or all of the information could change.

According to Moss, if a student reaches tier one, it would likely be due to three unexcused absences. A parent would be required to meet with the student’s school to review the situation and develop an attendance contract with a review date.

Moss said at tier two, which would likely be after five unexcused absences or if a parent is in violation of the school attendance contract, alternative actions such as counseling or community-based services for the parent could be considered and implemented. He said this could be due to potential alcohol or drug abuse, homelessness or any number of other unknown issues.

According to Moss, when a student reaches tier three or seven to 10 unexcused absences, it would likely be time to ask whether everything possible was done. He said a decision would likely be made as to whether to move forward with a petition for court or consider any other available options.

“What we are trying to do is encompass them with the resources we have within the schools, as well as in the community,” Moss said. “We wouldn’t do the truancy unless it’s absolutely necessary. We want these students to be with these great teachers we have. My job is to help people.”

Moss said programs like a federal 504 Plan or a chronic illness agreement – in cases where a student has a documented sickness or mental or physical health disability that causes the student to miss a significant number of days – would not apply, because it would serve as the necessary agreement between the school and parent.

Due to the lack of initial information released during Thursday’s school board work session, many parents were upset and took their frustration to the Parents of Wilson County Schools TN Facebook page.

The comments ranged from nurses who send students home without penalty to the child, to posts about a child who has a medical situation and may miss more than the allotted number of absences.
Parents of Wilson County TN Schools’ site administrator, Kristi Dunn, replied to the comments, referring to the policy as given to the school board members. She had not seen the proposed three-tier system.

“I think the biggest thing that bothers the parents is the vague language in the policy and the fact that the three-tier system has not been established or revealed to the public yet,” she said. “No one knows what that means or looks like or would be. It is concerning that we are having a first reading without the possibility of knowing what the three-tier system is.”

The board met Monday at 6 p.m. at the central office at 415 Harding Drive in Lebanon. A full recap of the meeting will appear in next week’s Mt. Juliet News.

By Angie Mayes 

Special to Mt. Juliet News