News / Halifax

'We just want it to be fair:' Halifax students petition province to change new attendance policy

Bedford students say the policy penalizes those with medical conditions and athletes who miss class time.

Bedford high school students Katie Watters (left) and Sam Morris have started a petition asking the province to amend its new attendance policy.

Yvette d'Entremont / Metro Order this photo

Bedford high school students Katie Watters (left) and Sam Morris have started a petition asking the province to amend its new attendance policy.

Two high school students have started a petition asking the province to amend its new attendance policy.

Sam Morris and Katie Watters both suffer from medical conditions that require them to frequently attend appointments during school hours.

The Grade 12 students at Bedford’s Charles P. Allen High School said the Student Attendance and Engagement Policy that took effect on Oct. 1 was “ill conceived” and creates more problems than it solves.

“Sam and I have both gone through having to leave for medical appointments and having them be marked as absences and having them affect our credit,” Watters explained.

The new policy requires students to attend at least 80 per cent of class time. Teachers can recommend a loss of credit when a student has missed 20 per cent of class time.

Morris suffers from untriggered epilepsy and said she’s worried.

“I have to stay home for at least a day (after a seizure) because otherwise I can’t focus in class,” Morris said.

“Pretty much as soon as the policy was mentioned we knew there was something wrong, that people were upset and that there needed to be a change.”

In an emailed statement, Nova Scotia Department of Education spokesperson Chrissy Matheson said the department is monitoring the policy to see if changes are required.

“We would encourage parents and students to provide input to the department,” Matheson wrote.

She also said students can work with principals and teachers in cases of prolonged illness or special circumstances.

But Morris and Watters said that’s not working at their school nor is it working in at least two others they’ve heard of.

“They’re so overloaded that the vice principals and principal don’t have time to get to every student about every situation like they’re supposed to be doing,” Watters said.

Halifax Regional School Board spokesperson Doug Hadley told Metro "It is a provincial policy so the HRSB does not have a comment on the petition."

The students drafted an online petition with input from their friends, peers and parents. It went live on Dec. 5 and by Tuesday afternoon it had garnered 360 signatures.

Watters said no longer having the option of special circumstances absences also poses barriers to students representing Canada or the province in sports and athletics.

“We don’t oppose the whole policy, but taking special circumstances away from those who need it is kind of pointless and puts a larger workload on teachers and vice principals and the counselors and everyone in the schools,” Morris said.

“We just want it to be fair.”

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