Letting students out of school and keeping them in were topics of discussion for the Columbia County School Board at a Tuesday meeting.
The board accepted changes to a new absenteeism policy that makes it more difficult for students to miss school and examined an alternate proposal to a teacher collaboration plan that keeps elementary pupils in class.
Originally discussed Aug. 18 at a meeting of the truancy committee composed of school and law enforcement officials, the committee's recommendation of a one-year phase-in for its new absenteeism policy, which the board approved in May, was accepted.
Many parents and students complained that they had already made plans that the old policy would have allowed without knowing a new policy was in place, Columbia County Schools Superintendent Tommy Price said.
"It was going to be difficult, I think, to get people used to this policy without sufficient time," he said.
The policy allows only five excused absences per semester and only for certain reasons, such as illness or a death in the family.
For this school year, officials will loosen the standards by which a student can receive a "special event" absence.
Events for which students can be excused for this year include any travel arrangements made before the implementation of the policy; vacation dates dictated by a parent's seniority in the workplace; and youth-group activities, such as mission trips or ski trips.
Other special-event absences can be excused on a case-by-case basis.
In 2004, the board heard a proposal by a task force of educators to create planning time for elementary teachers by releasing pupils two hours early one day a week.
"Our initial proposal was somewhat controversial, because it had the element of early release," Price said.
Price said parents complained about their children getting out early and about lost instruction time, but he said the elementary teachers do need more planning time.
"There is an extremely minimal amount of time for planning (at the elementary level)" he said.
Under the alternate plan, teachers will leave the classroom early on 13 days each school year for collaborative planning, and their pupils will be supervised by para-professionals and substitute teachers.
Collaborative planning will help teachers work multiple disciplines into their lesson plans. For example, a music teacher will be able to teach math by helping pupils count notes, proponents of the plan said.
Using substitutes to cover the classes during planning periods would cost about $65,000 a year, Price said.
"That's approximately the (annual) cost of a good, experienced teacher," school board member Wayne Bridges said. "I don't think that's a high price to pay if this does what it's supposed to do."
No decision was made on the proposal at Tuesday's meeting.
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