NEW CANAAN, Conn. – Family vacations will no longer be excused absences for students in New Canaan Public Schools after the Connecticut State Board of Education adopted more rigid definitions for excused and unexcused absences.
The state had no consistent definition for excused absences until now. The new definitions, adopted at the board's most recent meeting, are part of an effort by the state Department of Education to collect and publish comparable data on truancy. According to the state, current law defines “truant” as a student who has four unexcused absences in a month or 10 unexcused absences in a year.
“The variance among definitions of absences at the district level has made it extremely difficult to create, and report on, reliable data on truancy, one of the department’s statutory responsibilities,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a statement. The action “will preserve local decision-making while ensuring that families with children at risk of truancy receive the supports they need in the most timely manner.”
Under state rules, a student may miss up to nine days of school for illnesses, religious holidays, death in the family, mandated court appearances, a lack of transportation normally provided by a district or “extraordinary education opportunities” that have been pre-approved by district administrators. Absences as a result of school or district disciplinary action – such as suspensions – will also be considered excused.
A student’s absence from school will be considered excused only if written documentation of the reason for the absence has been submitted within 10 days of a student’s return to school.
New Canaan Public Schools have had a policy in place since 1993 requiring students to provide detailed reasons for any absence. A parent simply saying their child was held out or sick does not excuse a student, said New Canaan High School Principal Bryan Luizzi. Parents have to call the school or send a note with detailed information on why the student missed class within 48 hours of the absence, Luizzi said. New Canaan High only excuses absences for personal illness, death in the family, court appearances, religious observances, college visits or emergency medical appointments.
“For us, even for one [absence], we ask for more detailed information,” Luizzi said. “We’ve already been doing what the state has been asking. We’ve been saying that any absence has to be for [a] reason.” A New Canaan High School student with more than 12 absences - excused or not - from a class that meets daily may lose credit for that class, Luizzi said, though a student can file an appeal.
New Canaan Schools Superintendent Mary Kolek said it’s important for students to attend classes regularly for educational and security reasons. She added that it’s disruptive for students to come in and out of a class.