PORT ORCHARD — “There is an unacceptable level of tardiness at South Kitsap High,” said Amy Miller, public information officer for the South Kitsap School District. “The tardy rate is especially high on late-start Wednesday — and the issue is concerning.”
To curb the amount of disruption to class time, the high school decided to institute a new attendance policy Dec. 11 that has late students checking in at electronic kiosks outside of the classroom so teachers don’t have to pause their learning opportunities to change an absence to a tardy.
“When our teachers mark a student absent and that student comes to class late, the teacher is busy with instruction and often does not have time to record the absence to a tardy,” Miller said. “That results in absence calls home to our families that do not accurately reflect attendance.
“As you can imagine, the process is disruptive to learning,” Miller said of the interruptions. “The new practice is for students to go check in at the attendance office using one of two kiosks. They receive a time-stamped pass that they return to their teacher and enter the class with as little disruption as possible.”
South Kitsap High School Principal Diane Fox said the kiosk was actually installed in spring 2014, and “students were always required to check in to the kiosk before the first period each day.”
“We have very high rates of tardies on Wednesday before the first class of the day … approximately 200 students,” Fox said. “This has been a historical problem at SKHS. On these days, it can take up to 15 minutes to get that volume through the kiosk.”
She said the tardiness rate is “startlingly lower” on the other days of the week, with only 10-15 tardy students.
In addition, the school has started playing music over the intercom system during the last 45 seconds of each passing period as a notice to students “that time is dwindling and it is time to move on to class.”
According to the SKSD Student Rights and Responsibility handbook (goo.gl/dDfXrz), “Students with one or more unexcused absences and/or tardiness and subject to compulsory attendance … may be subject to corrective action that is reasonably calculated to modify the student’s conduct.”
Correction action can include taking “steps to reduce the student’s absences, which include, where appropriate … adjustments to the student’s school program or school or courses or assisting the parent/guardian in obtaining supplementary services.”
The district policy goes on to state that grades will only be affected if the student misses or is late to a class for which the teacher has made participation and attendance a part of the grade.
“No form of discipline will be enforced in such a manner as to prevent a student from accomplishing specific academic grade, subject or graduation requirements,” the policy adds.
Fox said, “We expect our students to come to school on time and (we) are working to create that environment. We do not expect our teachers to adjust grading rubrics for tardy students. The data is showing us that our Wednesday tardies before first class remain a significant problem, and not a new one.”
The students’ reaction to the new policy has been less than welcoming, though, because it often leaves students to spend 20 or more minutes waiting in line to check in at the kiosk instead of in-class learning, according to anecdotes shared to the “We the People of SKHS” Facebook group.
“This situation is so bad,” said SKHS junior Sarah Mastberg. “I’ve considered switching schools over it. They are taking away from my learning and, to me, that’s not okay.”
Parents also have expressed displeasure about the new policy.
An administrator of the Facebook group penned an open letter she intends to share with the school’s principal. The letter includes quotes from a number of people about the policy.
(Quotes are displayed as they appeared on Facebook.) Leah, a district parent, said, “I don’t understand what this tardy policy is going to achieve. My son was in class but not in his seat so he is considered tardy. He gets sent out of the class to stand in line for 25 min and meanwhile gets to visit with friends. So now he is missing 30 min of class and will be disrupting class again by coming in late. And who’s to say they go straight to class after that … since they are already marked as being there.”
When asked about this, Miller said that if a student is in the classroom when the bell signals the start of the period, they should not be considered late.
However, Sandra, another district parent, had a similar concern: “Hello parent of SKHS student though she has only been marked tardy once it was as she walked through the door while the bell was ringing she sat in line for 20 minutes missed out on 20 minutes of class !!! My concern is that she was there in class as the bell rang. teacher said she was tardy seems ridiculous to me.”
A student, Samantha, said she stood in line for a kiosk for 25 minutes because she was “like a minute or less late to class.”
“A tardy is a tardy,” Fox said. “If a student is only late for a minute and has to stand in line, it would be before the first period of the day and most likely on a Wednesday.”
Miller said SKHS staff is looking at quotes to install a third kiosk to reduce wait times. Fox said there doesn’t seem to be a significant problem with the kiosks outside the late-start Wednesdays.
“This policy is counterproductive because it causes students to miss even more class time than they would have,” the administrator wrote.
“I would completely understand if the policy was revised so that if a student is more than five minutes late then they have to go get a pass from the office … I understand that it can be hard on teachers, but it takes two seconds to change from an absent to a tardy. Not 25 minutes in a line.”
Miller said, “You’ve heard the saying, ‘If you miss school, you miss out.’ We want our students to receive as much instruction as possible during the school day with the least amount of distractions.”
Michelle Beahm can be reached at mbeahm@sound publishing.com.