Guest Column

The Whining Center

by Stan Bippus

Poor attendance negatively reflects on the values of individuals who are not dependable and the atmosphere of a school.

No matter how hard school officials strive to make schools a desirable and enjoyable place, there will always be students who skip school or come in late simply because they are lazy, have a negative attitude or just do not like school.

Part of the student-attendance problem stems from the fact that schools, parents and the public are too complacent about punctuality and daily attendance. A student is either on time or late. The reasons, for the most part, are irrelevant. As educators, we waste too much time listening to students and parents try to justify misbehavior.

When a child gets into trouble for poor attendance, too many parents will lie to get an absence approved as excused. Prominent parents in a community will use their influence to intimidate school officials to overlook tardiness or get an unexcused absence recorded as excused. Students are masters at talking their way out of an unexcused tardy or absence. If you want to witness some Academy Award-worthy acting, sit in a school attendance office and observe students and parents in action. I’d change the name to the Whining Center.

I’ve seen this charade play out over and over during my 36 years in educational administration. It never ceased to amaze me how a parent could look me in the eye and outright lie about why a child missed school or defend why a child was late.

Role Models
Getting educators to agree on what constitutes an excused absence or tardiness is impossible. The primary difference between an excused or unexcused absence or tardy can be which school official is making the determination, who the student is or parents are or how creative the writer of the excuse was in justifying the excuse. The public accepts tough attendance and tardy procedures until they relate to them personally — which demonstrates to young people that false excuses may be acceptable at times.

Physicians show little regard for the importance of good school attendance by scheduling appointments at their convenience during the hours of the school day, forcing students to miss classes. Doctors and dentists should be more accommodating, setting office hours that allow students to make appointments after school, during evenings or on Saturdays.

Parents will plan family vacations during the school year. Part of the blame here belongs to insensitive employers who restrict employees with families in their use of annual leave.

Young people develop poor attend-ance because they can miss school for just about anything that an adult deems appropriate — and it is amazing to me what some adults deem appropriate reasons for children to miss school. How will students value good attendance when they observe parents calling in sick to go shopping or hunting? What message is being sent when youngsters see teachers leaving school a day or two early for winter or spring break?

Personal Days
To help teach students about responsible behavior while addressing attendance issues, I propose giving students sick leave days and personal leave days, just like most employees receive in their workplace. Granting sick and personal days to students eliminates the game students and parents play trying to justify an absence. A high school senior should have more personal days than a freshman, and students could earn additional personal days with perfect attendance, exemplary behavior and community service.

When students want to use a sick or personal day, they would be required to notify the school before, not after, the absence. When students exceed their sick leave and personal days, there would be serious consequences, requiring any time missed to be made up on weekends or evenings. Some courses would have maximum allowable absences before a student would be dropped from the class.

Granted, some students and parents would continue to abuse sick leave and personal days, but even so their potential abuse is not a valid reason to withhold a secondary school student’s sick-leave and personal-leave days. A student with a serious illness could have academic work sent home with a tutor and would not suffer any consequences for long-term illness or injury.

We have dependability problems because we are not willing to make the sacrifices to enforce strong, effective -attendance and punctuality standards. Communities need to jointly agree on higher expectations in this area. Any business owner or educator unwilling to take the time to develop strong, enforceable standards for attendance should never again complain about how unreliable young people are at school or work.

Stan Bippus is a retired superintendent in Huntington, Ind. E-mail: