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July 21, 2019 | 2:19am
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FHS program to help curb absenteeism raises concerns

Ferndale High School (FHS) is working on developing ways improve attendance. One alternative that would incorporate local business involvement has left some businesses and parents unimpressed.

According to Assistant Superintendent Scott Brittain, attendance is one of three key factors the district is focused on in their push to get kids to graduation. The other two being behavior and course completion.

State of Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is becoming more focused on absenteeism as well. Recent changes in grade requirements include counting excused absences along with unexcused when determining if a student has enough class time to progress to the next grade or graduate. In the past, families would take their children out of class for vacations and family events as excused absences. Now the state is requiring school districts to report those in the same way as unexcused absences since they represent time the student is not in a class. In addition, field trips and other “out of seat” events can also be counted as absences.

This all is the result of a new focus on absenteeism at the state level, especially chronic absenteeism. A student who has absences totaling more than 10% of total school time (18 or more days in a school year or two days a month) for any reason is considered chronically absent according to the state policy.

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FHS grants open campus privileges to all students except freshmen. Brittain said he and new FHS Principal Jeff Gardner had looked at taking away off-campus privileges for those students who met the “chronically absent” criteria. “They could earn the right to go off-campus again by improving their attendance,” said Brittain.

Some local businesses owners near the FHS campus told Discover Ferndale they or their staff had been recently contacted by school officials about a program aimed at students who had lost their off-campus privileges. As a participant in the program, during lunch periods they were to sell only to students who could prove they had off-campus privileges.

According to Brittain, the means of proving these privileges and what a business would be asked to do if such privileges could not be proven have not been finalized. Brittain said, while he wasn’t the one contacting businesses, he had been told the response from those contacted had been positive.

Discover Ferndale spoke with the owners and managers of three popular lunch businesses near FHS and all confirmed they had been contacted by someone from the school regarding this program. All three also said they saw no reason why they would refuse business to any paying customer, regardless of the proposed school program.

Mugshots Owner Jamie Rubright said as a member of the community, she would like to help. But as a business owner, she is scraping for every customer she can get. “Turning away students would be cutting my own throat,” Rubright told Discover Ferndale. Her espresso business at 5750 Vista Drive sees a large fall off when school is out and has faced additional business challenges while Washington Street has been closed this summer. “Plus, I do not want to worry about vandalism or anything else from kids unhappy about being turned away. It’s just too much to ask,” Rubright added.

Brittain said he has been advising school principals in the Ferndale School District to consider programs promoted on the Attendance Works website. Brittain pointed out community involvement in helping kids stay in school is a key part of the Attendance Works national and state initiatives and is expected to yield the best results.

Principal Gardner told Discover Ferndale that a response from his office would be posted on the FHS Facebook page shortly.

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    • This whole thing is absurd. These children (CHILDREN) have rights. I agree with keeping truancy down but the policies are more like a police state! Ridiculous!

  1. I personally know first hand how easy it was to skip school at Ferndale High. As a freshman I was always leaving campus, and never fully realized the problem till courts got involved and the final straw for me was when I believed I was a sophomore I returned from lunch one day to my principal pulling me into the office pulling up my file and telling me I was still technically a freshman. I dropped out that day and ended up getting a GED

  2. Why can’t food trucks come to the parking lot at lunch time, that way kids don’t have to leave campus and invade the neighborhood? It also gives them more time instead of rushing back to school and possibly being late for class.

  3. If someone who is a student is willing to pay for my service. Just like anyone else, I’m going to provide them with service. I don’t care about the student being absent. Not my concern.

  4. It is hard for me to believe that people with COLLEGE educations can come up with such MORONIC ideas, it has always been my opinion that a passing grade is what really matters. Not how many days you spend in class. I hope this totally inept idea gets thrown in the trash where it belongs. I will boycott any business that goes along with this.

  5. Please quote and cite where it says field trips are counted as unexcused absences.

    So the state is asking students to attend school for 163 days a year before they are counted as chronically absent? Lat time I checked, most minimum wage jobs only allow 5 sick/ vacation days a YEAR. Wake up to the real world.
    Personally, if I owned a small business, I would only hire students with blue stickers. They show up and do their work. Sounds like a good employee.
    Students who are whining that this is unfair: GO TO AFRICA or MANY PARTS OF ASIA or SOUTH AMERICA WHERE MOST KIDS DON’T GET THIS PRIVILEGE!

    • Thanks for asking. Note that, for the purposes of grade progression and graduation, unexcused and excused both count toward a student’s days absent total.

      “If the instructional environment takes place in another setting, and is supervised or conducted by a certificated teacher, this would generally not be considered an absence. This includes educational field trips. However, if the students are missing other seat-time instruction (e.g. math), while on a full-day field trip for another class (e.g. band), then the student should be recorded as absent from the classes that are taking place during the field trip.”

      • Yes, it will be counted as an absence (as it always has been), but it will be an excused absence. And, most responsible students get their work before they leave. This is not a new policy.

  6. Rather than cutting off your nose to spite your face start looking at why the truancy is occurring and give the teachers, that have the lowest attendance, an evaluation to determine why students are skipping their classes.

  7. Maybe they should focus on what’s going on with the children to make them want to miss school instead of punishing them for not being there obviously there’s something going on at the school where the children would rather be somewhere else than there

  8. Maybe we should be taking a closer look at those that supported or concocted this idea. Do you really want morons like this involved in educating our kids?

  9. So the school’s response to absenteeism is to punish students (making them want to come even less), ask businesses to engage in practices that are self harming, and seemingly do nothing to address why students avoid Ferndale High School in the first place? Community involvement comes through creating a supportive environment, not continuing to tell kids they are bad or worth less than the others.

    Teachers constantly complain about how when they are struggling or doing poorly, that punishment based accountability makes it harder to succeed, yet that is exactly what they want to do for students who are struggling? And Ferndale wonders why a third of their students don’t graduate?

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