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Vacations No Longer Excused Absences In Fairfield Schools

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Family vacations will no longer be excused absences for students in Fairfield 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,” 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 preapproved 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. Fairfield’s town policies already had this system intact.

“Our Board of Education policy is very broad when addressing attendance so there is no conflict with our policy,” Deputy Schools Superintendent Karen Parks said via email. “Additionally, our current policy on truancy requires a report after four unexcused absences in one month or 10 unexcused absences in one year. The new definition does not change that requirement.”

What will change, however, is what qualifies as an “excused” absence. Fairfield Public Schools do not have a districtwide policy that defines absences, leaving it to each individual school to decide.

At both high schools, for example, the policy allowed students to miss school for illnesseses, college visits, family vacations, doctor appointments and other reasons. As long as parents notified the school’s administration, these missed class would go toward a student’s quota for receiving credit but would not make a student truant if a student was over the state’s limits.

The state’s new policy excuses only illnesses, religious holidays, deaths in the family or other emergencies “beyond the family’s control,” mandated court appearances and “extraordinary educational opportunities.” Planned items such as vacations and doctor’s appointments are no longer covered.

Parks also clarified that the change affects only those absences that keep kids out of school entirely. In-school suspensions, school activities outside of normal classes and other types of missed classes will still not be counted toward truancy.

“Fortunately, the new definition by the state BOE does not apply to internal absences, so there will be no required changes for class absences within our high schools,” Parks said.

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