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Parent questions school policy
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

With illness taking over the Warren County School System, resulting in six days of absences within two weeks, a parent is questioning the rule the school system has in only allotting five parent notes for absences per year.

Although students can have unlimited doctor’s notes, some individuals say they can’t afford to constantly take their child to the doctor. As the health instructor of Warren County Schools advised parents to keep their child at home if showing any symptoms of illness last week, a dilemma occurred with many parents questioning the amount of days a child could miss without doctors’ notes before being punished.

“As a parent, when I take my children to the doctor, even with insurance, it costs $30 for the doctor to even see them,” says Tia Wilson, a parent of a WCHS student. “That’s just for one child. If I have two that are sick, which is often the case, that’s $60 to be seen by a doctor, in addition to any tests, X-rays and medicine that also has to be bought.”

Warren County director of attendance Jeff Martin claims the amount of absences since last week has improved on Monday and Tuesday when schools continued as scheduled. However, last Tuesday, Feb. 4, 11.4% of students were absent, and the previous Tuesday, Jan. 28, absences reached 11.8%.

“There are only about 7% of students absent today,” said Director of Schools, Bobby Cox on Tuesday. “It’s dramatically better than it was the last six days.”

The emphasis on absenteeism is due to making up 10% of the score the district receives in the TNReady test results. The TNReady test is a form of report card the state uses to evaluate each district. Beginning in 2017, chronic absenteeism became a part of district and school accountability.

The Chronically Out-of-School Indicator is based on chronic absenteeism, which is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of instructional days, including excused absences and out-of-school suspensions. A Tennessee student is considered truant at five unexcused absences and may be subject to legal intervention.

In 2019, the Warren County School System had a reduction in the number of chronically absent students throughout the district by 2.4% from the previous year. In 2018, that number was 14.3% while the 2019 rate had decreased to 11.9%

“You start battling with the amount of chronic absenteeism in the school district,” says Martin. “Absenteeism is 10% of the score the district receives in the TNReady test results, and all absences are counted, whether they are excused, unexcused or absent due to disciplinary action.” 

A chart was comprised to highlight chronic absence rates for various subgroups of Tennessee students during the 2014-15 school year. The highest subgroup was students with disabilities at 20.1% while the second highest was economically disadvantaged at 19.2%. 

Warren County has 22.9% of citizens living in poverty, which is higher than the average poverty rate in both the state and country. 

“A lot of parents can’t afford to take their children to a doctor every time they have a virus or a sore throat. Allowing only five parent notes seems absurd,” says Wilson. “Parents shouldn’t be penalized because their children are legitimately sick over five days without being able to receive a doctor’s note.” 

Cox states if a student has five notes from parents considered unexcused, the decision falls on the principal of each school to use discretion on the matter.

“We understand things come up, and that’s why we give the principals the ability to make the decision based on the situation,” says Cox. “The principals understand and can work with the student and parent regarding certain cases.”