New pre-planned absence protocol introduced

Attendance Secretary Amy Hart sorts through virtual planned absence forms. (Photo by Katie Jude)

A new planned absence procedure for high school students has been implemented in response to COVID-19 and the high school’s distance learning plan. 

Assistant Principal Craig McMillen said the previous attendance procedure for planned absences required students to pick up a paper form from the office and have their teachers sign it before turning it back in.

 McMillen explained that students are still required to submit the form three or more days before their absence, but instead of a physical copy of the form, it is completed on an online form.  He added that students select their teachers on the online form, and then an email is sent to the students’ teachers and parents, as well as the office. The students’ parents then need to confirm the absence by responding to the email, McMillen said. 

Students can access this attendance form online on the high school homepage, he added. 

 Both parents and students are able to submit the form, but he believes it is a student’s responsibility to submit them so they can be in charge of communication with the school.

 He also said this new process allows him to be proactive in monitoring where students are traveling and if they would potentially need to quarantine upon their return.

“Every time I get an email, I look at what state they are going to, I look up the positivity rate, and I get on the phone with the parent to have that conversation with them before they come back and all of a sudden find out that they have to quarantine for 14 days,” McMillen explained. 

McMillen said that it became apparent that a change was necessary at the end of the 2019-20 school year. 

 “The need for this change really came out of distance learning last spring and not having the ability to use the paper form we used previously,” he explained.  

There was no mechanism for students to report their absences other than to email attendance secretary Amy Hart or himself, he explained. Some students only told their teachers, and not the office, when they were going to be absent, so the office was unaware of when or why the student was going to be gone, he added. 

McMillen and Hart agreed the new process is less labor-intensive than the former one. 

“The amount of paperwork that I see go through our office each day is just a massive amount,” he said. “Keeping track of it is so much easier with a digital record of it rather than having a written piece of paper.” 

McMillen said he was behind the idea for the new procedures and has done most of the work to implement it, but he reached out to a friend in a district he used to work at for help  writing some of the code. 

“It was mutually beneficial,” he said. “He works in another district, but attendance paperwork is a problem in every [school] in America.” 

McMillen said he knows it has been an adjustment for students and parents, as  students have come to the office during in-person school and parents have called to request a planned absence form, but Hart explained that they could find them online. 

 “We know it’s a new process, so we’re trying to be understanding if a kid doesn’t turn it in three days in advance,” McMillen added.

McMillen said it has been an adjustment for teachers as well, but he hopes that it will  allow easier communication between parents, teachers and himself. 

“It is my hope that teachers can see [the absence forms], and if they question the absence or they are concerned because a student is not performing well in class, that they will eventually start bringing those things to me so I can have an informed conversation with parents,” McMillen explained. 

Hart added that she has received feedback from students who were concerned that the online form did not have a way of indicating if they were missing only part of the day. 

“If students are, for example, going on a college visit only in the afternoon, there has been no way to indicate that, but Mr. McMillen and I have been working on fixing that,” Hart explained.

Despite its challenges, McMillen said  the new process has been an overall success and that this new protocol is here to stay. 

“I think it’s gone very smoothly and once we get people trained up on it in terms of how it works, it’s really simple,” he said. “I’m planning on never going back to paper forms.”