WESTERLY — Westerly High School students who are frequently absent or late for school will face the possibility of not being allowed to attend evening and weekend school events, dances and other activities starting in the upcoming school year.

Principal Michael Hobin had proposed the "social suspension," saying he needed a tool or incentive to use when working with students who are often absent or tardy. Hobin said some students have ignored a requirement for providing a signed note from a doctor, nurse or court official to document excused absences, describing the situation as one in which "there's no sense of urgency."

The School Committee unanimously approved the suspension policy on Wednesday, along with other changes to the school's Student Expectation Handbook.

The new policy deals with chronic tardiness and absenteeism. Here is the new language:

"Students missing any part of the school day without any valid documentation after three offenses will be prohibited from participating in all after school, extracurricular activities, including athletics. Excessive tardiness will be reported to parent/guardian via mail. Students will be assigned to a Tardy Circle until behavior improves. Dean will meet with parent and student; student may be placed on social suspension (i.e. no entry to PM/Weekend school events and /or participation in after school clubs, groups, athletic teams, school dances, and senior week events)."

Hobin said social suspensions will last for 30 days. They will be used in addition to the school's previous use of office detentions and in cases of students with 10 or more days absent or tardy, referral to truancy court or the Juvenile Hearing Board.

"Anyone who knows me knows that this is my big item — get to school. I can't do much with you if you're always home," Hobin said.

School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy said the social suspension policy will likely get the attention of students. "They'll understand the message is if you don't come to school there's a  consequence," ...," said. "And it's going to prepare them a little bit for the real world, you can't just not show up for work, it doesn't get written off."

Hobin explained that he and his staff work on talking with students and their families about absences and tardiness before significant problems develop. The reasons for absences can include students "who are not excited about school and their classes" and students whose families do not put a high priority on attending school, he said.

The state Department of Education places an emphasis on student attendance by posting a daily "leader board" on its website that tracks student attendance at schools throughout the state. In his first year at WHS, Hobin said, excessive absenteeism dropped from 20.5 percent to 14.7 percent. 

The other significant substantive change to the handbook involves the frequency that the school notifies parents of their child's grades. Starting in September the school will move from semester to quarterly notification.

"We've heard some feedback from families and some of our staff that it's just too long of a time. That grade can continue to change and it seems like it's always a moving target," Hobin said.

In a related development, Hobin said teachers have been working on establishing grading standards across classes. "We have worked on trying to be consistent across teachers in the same subject area, same course and same department. All cohorts will have common syllabi starting in September," Hobin said.


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