News / Halifax

Nova Scotia public schools to have new attendance policy by September

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia public schools are expected to usher in new attendance rules this fall to address high absentee and tardiness rates among students.

The draft rules aim to give teachers some "teeth" to tackle what has become a chronic issue in some classrooms.

"Teachers have asked to have some teeth in an attendance policy," said Liz Brideau-Clark, part of the 14-member Council to Improve Classroom Conditions created in February following a lengthy labour dispute that saw the province impose a four-year contract on more than 9,000 unionized teachers.

"There are different issues in different schools but we've tried to come up with something that hopefully will allow schools to have a little bit of the decision-making to work with students and get them back in the school," said Brideau-Clark, a teacher at Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay.

Pamela Doyle, guidance counsellor and registrar at Lockview High School in Fall River, said attendance issues will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, and solutions will be tailored to individual student needs.

"A student who has a mental health issue is very different than a student who is in the cafeteria playing cards," she said. "You can't just have an all-in-one policy for every student."

Individual attendance plans can include a carrot and stick approach, Doyle suggested.

"Some students might need an opportunity to go for a quick walk in the hallways or in elementary school have some extra play time," she said, adding that consequences such as detention could be used as a last resort when incentives don't work.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released a draft of the attendance policy Thursday.

"Teachers have told us that poor attendance and late arrivals are growing issues that are impacting the classroom environment for all students," Education Minister Karen Casey said in a statement. "Students need and deserve to be in the best environment to learn and prepare for their future."

The draft policy defines an excused absence, how absences need to be explained to schools, and how a school will go about addressing absences and chronic lateness. This may include loss of course credits at the high school level.

In 2014-2015, almost 30 per cent of students missed 16 or more days of school.

In addition, about a quarter of students are regularly showing up late for class, Doyle said.

"Those 25 per cent coming late to class are disrupting the learning of those that are already there and engaged," she said.

The 14-member classroom improvement committee — made up of teachers, parents and students — hopes to gather feedback on the policy in time for its next meeting in May in order to finish the policy by June and implement it in September.

The committee is asking principals to share the policy with staff and school advisory councils.

The council, which has a $20-million budget over two years, will also be examining issues such as class sizes, assessment and evaluation and student discipline.

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