No Penalty this Year for Absenteeism at Richmond Schools

One of three Richmond Public Schools students would have had a lower Grade Point Average if school officials had enforced an absenteeism penalty established in 2012, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Punishing the students, said school officials, would put the graduations status for some at risk.

The policy mandates that students with more than six unexcused absences per nine weeks, or 10 per semester, would not get credit for the class. Enforcement of the policy this year would have impacted 1,300 students, including more than 400 seniors.

The School Board voted 6 to 2 to suspend the policy. School officials will review the policy for possible updates and implementation by the next school year.

“These are students who have the grades,” said Linda Owen of the 9th District. “What we’re saying is because they have the six unexcused absences, they don’t get the credit. These are not kids that did not show up at all. … I just don’t see how we can legitimately say to the kids who have the grades to earn the credit that because you have — now — unexcused absences, we’re going to take the credit away.”

“Oftentimes there are situations in our homes that we are not aware of,” said Cheryl Burke of the 7th district. “Of all the procedures that we could use to hold children accountable for coming to school, to take away their grades, I don’t get it. … I hope we can revisit this policy. I think it’s punitive and it’s not in the business of helping students, especially thinking of the population we serve. Some of our children are taking care of their siblings. Some of our children are taking care of their parents. Some of our children have issues beyond the schools piece. To take away somebody’s grades, that’s like taking away their income. That’s terrible.”

At least one school board member saw value in keeping the sanctions. “Richmond Public Schools has systemic accountability problems beginning with a complete disregard for the basics,” said Jonathan Young, of the 4th district. “The disgrace relevant to our attendance deficiencies is only the tip of an iceberg that includes chronic problems including students that wander the halls all day disrupting classes, initiating fights and creating hardships for all of the students trying to do the right thing.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Is the Richmond school system willing to uphold any standards at all? What is more fundamental than attending class? I suppose doing the homework would help — but who knows what the homework policies are? Or passing the tests — but who knows how rigorous the tests are? As an outsider, watching the school board collapse like a Florida university pedestrian bridge, I have no confidence whatsoever in the value of a Richmond high school degree.

I’m sure there are legitimate hard cases in which children do miss multiple classes due to pressing family considerations. But how many are those? What we do know is that truancy and discipline issues are endemic in Richmond high schools. The school board vote strikes me as a flight from accountability — indeed a flight from reality. Enforcing attendance requirements would expose the charade of lax standards, social promotions, and the fraud that has been the increase in high school graduation rates.

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9 responses to “No Penalty this Year for Absenteeism at Richmond Schools”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The message sent to employers is clear: these diplomas are worthless if you need employees who understand you don’t just skip work. I suspect employers already know that… Likewise the message is clear to college admission officers who understand it is crucial to actually go to class to succeed – an RPS diploma guarantees nothing on that front.

    The rule needs to be fully enforced starting with the upcoming summer school term. If the string of absences is a symptom of legitimate stress in the household, then that should be addressed – not ignored. I suspect it won’t take long to see that number reduce if consequences are real.

    1. Acbar Avatar

      The rule is “unexcused absences.” There is plenty of room for legitimate excuses, and for the home investigation that repeated requests for an excuse ought to trigger. Perhaps many of these absences are unexcused because, from the point of view of the student, why bother to ask for an excuse; perhaps any contact with the authorities even results in a bureaucratic hassling of the student or his family from “investigative” staff who resent being asked to do their job.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      One thing I CAN agree with – is the idea of what employers want in the way of employees…. but it’s not just a problem at Richmond Schools… though I’ll admit – by itself – the policy is sending a wrong message.

      I hate being a de-facto apologist for folks who are still stuck in a cycle of poverty and who never had good role models or parents to instill in them the value of being dependable and reliable as a basic work ethic.

      Generational cycles of poverty – do bad things… to the kids. No matter how bright they are or how well they can learn if they apply themselves – if they do not understand the other important qualities of a job… they end up with a pile of bad consequences in their lives…

      People who are themselves in the throes of poverty- who then have kids… geeze.. what can I say? it’s a problem – but our society preaches that “family” trumps everything else… and it’s a cruel concept.

      1. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        My irritation is fed by the fact that I am on the board of a non-profit trying to work on breaking that very cycle of poverty, and IMHO the RPS attitude is the adding to the problem. It is about expectations, and if you expect failure, you will get it. If you expect excellence, you can get it. The basic life skill of showing up where you need to be, absent a valid excuse, is not to much to expect from anybody. Providing your teacher/employer with a reason for your absence is just common courtesy – another life skill.

        What generational cycles of poverty do to kids might be big topic with me on this blog going forward, but if I didn’t think the cycle could be broken I wouldn’t bother.

  2. Yr. Excellency!
    Those are harsh words but nowhere near harsh enough for this situation.
    The Policy is window dressing for RPS’s ongoing violations of the state law that requires them to go to court after the seventh unexcused absence. In 2016, they complied with that law in only 3.1% of 7,288 cases. The State Board of “Education,” which is responsible for enforcement of that law, has done nothing about Richmond’s gross and ongoing violations.
    Links to the law and the data are here:

  3. CrazyJD Avatar

    RPS is done. Stick a fork in it.

    No one with a pulse would think about sending their kid there.

    1. Not so Crazy, JD:

      It’s a bit more complicated than that. Richmond has one decent elementary school, Munford, and two good high schools, Open and Community. The Governor’s School (which is NOT a Richmond Public School) is superb. Most of the rest — and ALL of the middle schools — are a tragic assault on the kids who are students there.

      The Richmond residents who can afford it send their kids to private schools. Those in my middle class neighborhood tend to move to a County when the first kid reaches 3 or 4 years old. It is the residents who can’t afford either of those options whose kids pay the price.

      And that is the nub of the outrage: The Richmond schools are damaging the kids who most need — and who cannot otherwise get — a decent education. Then we have our School Board that adopted that meaningless Policy to camouflage its gross and ongoing violations of Virginia law; then the Board did not enforce even that Policy, while maintaining an astounding truancy rate. It’s enough to make a taxpayer cranky.

  4. Acbar Avatar

    Re the RPS school board: Who votes for electing people with this attitude toward education? Who do they think they are helping by suspending this policy of theirs, other than themselves politically? What are the districts geographically and how did they break down on this vote? What else is the Board of Education ignoring about Richmond schools’ compliance with State law? What else has the RPS “implemented” with such hollow gestures? “Mendacious showboating” indeed: Damn, it’s enough to make anyone cranky.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Here’s something perhaps worth adding to the debate:

    ” School Board approves year-round school at Chesterfield elementary school”

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