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Parents criticize new attendance policy of Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools

Under the policy to combat chronic absenteeism, high school students with at least 9 absences in a semester automatically get a failing grade in that class.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — There’s growing concern and questions about a new attendance policy in Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools.

Starting this school year, high school students with at least nine absences in a semester automatically get a failing grade of 59 or lower in that class. The school division confirmed that this includes excused or unexcused absences.

Lashanda Dobson and other parents are concerned it doesn’t consider circumstances out of a student's control, like sickness and mental health, and could negatively impact their future.

“I think it’s really ridiculous,” Dobson said. 

In an interview with 13News Now, she questioned why attendance would affect students' grades if they're passing tests and doing their classwork.

Elementary or middle school students who miss too many days of school will be required to meet certain conditions or risk getting held back, according to the guidelines.

The school division updated this policy in June to address chronic absenteeism, which the Virginia Board of Education defines as missing 10 percent of a school year for any reason.

Division leaders said the issue hurts students’ progress and school accreditation, and they’re implementing other measures, including notifying and working with parents of students before they reach that mark.

According to their policy manual, parents of impacted students can request a waiver with their school’s principal before the end of the semester.

This comes as several parents are pushing back on another new division-wide policy that doesn’t require school buses to pick up students who live within a certain distance of their school.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me at all,” Dobson said.

Dobson says both policies impact her kids.

In a statement, a school division spokeswoman said they established the guidelines as part of their commitment “to prepare students to progress academically, to achieve success and to accept responsibility for themselves.”

Several parents say they plan to attend the next school board meeting on Sept. 19.

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