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Board of Ed Report — Student absenteeism is re-evaluated and referendum likely on private, parochial school busing

he initial draft of a revised policy on absences among students is undergoing rewrites to ensure that when the policy is adopted it stresses intervention, not punitive actions.

Administration officials and Board of Education members discussed a first draft of proposed changes to its student absentee policy Monday night. The BOE wants a revised policy to discover the roots of the problem and find ways to encourage attendance.

A first reading of the proposal resulted in a lengthy discussion aimed at making changes to the current draft. It doesn’t mean there will be no consequences for a student who exceeds allowable absences. But BOE members want involvement from parents or guardians in troubleshooting reasons for chronic absences or lateness.

Member and former BOE president Kathleen Lynch, who is a professional therapist, said while many students have great encouragement from parents or guardians, not all students come from such families.

Some have families overwhelmed with work, coping with job losses and financial concerns and can’t focus on how to encourage children to take their education seriously. Among her patients are some with a high level of anxiety, she said. Her concern is the need to ease anxiety, not add to it with punitive actions.

The district has a well developed social-emotional program to provide assistance to students who are troubled by factors that might lead them to be chronically late or absent.

Assistant School Superintendent Jennifer Rylott said that’s the reason the revised policy stresses parent involvement and intervention. The district doesn’t have a lot of students who are chronically late or absent, she said.

But, Ms. Rylott, added, in a small district like Shelter Island, as few as five students can make the problem appear statistically significant.

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D. is concerned a high rate of absenteeism could see the State Educational Department targeting the district for review. Even though the school proposal lists several reasons for excused absences, the State Educational Department sees all absences the same, Ms. Rylott said.

Targeted districts are closely monitored by the State for factors that could affect how they are designated.

In other actions: The BOE is considering increasing salaries for substitute teachers and aides. The district has a few substitutes who’ve been responsive to filling slots when needed. But when more are needed, and they’re not Island residents, the pay scale is too low to attract them when competition for their services comes from districts on the North and South forks where payment is higher.

Members will look at what those other districts are paying and discuss what level they need to pay to become more competitive.

Busing of students, unless they have disabilities that require they be educated off-Island, isn’t something the district has to continue after the current school year, which ends next June.

Board members said they didn’t want to impose their own feelings on taxpayers who have the right to request a referendum, which would put the decision in their hands about whether busing continues to parochial and private schools primarily on the South Fork.