Calhoun County Independent School District came under fire last week over a policy of final exam exemptions.
In a letter to the editor, Michael Hart wrote that his son, who was battling a case of the flu, informed him and his mother that excused absences, even with a doctor’s note, count against being exempt from a final.
“We were alarmed to find out that the [high] school had indeed changed the rules of the students to exempt out of their finals,” Hart wrote. “The change was to treat all absences the same. Excused absences signed by a doctor would no longer be honored when determining exemptions.”
Students were informed about the change in the exemption policy during an assembly, according to Hart.
“Nothing was posted online for the parents to read,” Hart said in the letter. “We know this fact because we’re referred to the online site and found nothing.”
The Wave talked to CCISD Superintendent Larry Nichols and Assistant Superintendent Kelly Taylor about the controversial change.
According to Taylor, the change took effect for the second semester of the 2019-20 school year, and she added it is consistent with neighboring districts and Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) attendance taking guidelines.
“The information is posted on the Calhoun High School website, and students were included in the conversation when they came back from the first-semester break, so that conversation could happen prior to the accumulation of any absences,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, the exemption policy is a locally developed guideline, and “it was not a board agenda.”
Nichols said that’s something that the board doesn’t decide. He added those are policies versus procedures.
Taylor talked about why the change happened, and she said that students and parents had many questions about the “exempt process” and how to add special concerns or circumstances.
In the current exemption and TEA Policy, a required court appearance, field trip/school business, ISS day, a code religious holiday, approved college visit, approved military assignment, a medical visit-partial day only, participating in school testing, and in the nurse’s/trainer’s office considers students “present under these circumstances.”
“The Texas Education Agency is very clear on when a student is absent or present,” Taylor said. “But it’s so important that parents, students know if there are special circumstances, something that they can’t control, like a death in the family, or a documented illness, that an appeal process is a way to address any need that may have come up.”
With the flu season hitting hard, Hart explained in his letter that his son spent much of the time in the Edna emergency room with severe dehydration due to the strain of the flu he contracted.
“So now when a student becomes ill, they have to consider attending school anyway in order to keep the option for exemption available,” Hart said.
He added that no student should never be in a position whether to go to school sick or lose their exemption status.
Nichols made it clear that the district doesn’t want students to come to school sick.
“Not one parent or student believes that the school district or anybody in the district wants you to come to school sick,” Nichols said.
Taylor spoke about the appeal process for students who have missed school due to special circumstances, and she said if a student doesn’t qualify for an exam exemption, the student can submit the appeal to the front high school office within five days.
Taylor added a committee will consider the special circumstances and respond within three days.
“I think a hospital stay, death in the family, a doctor’s note for an illness, those are things that would be considered,” Taylor said.
Nichols said if a student does not meet the standards of being exempt for “good reasons”, they have the right to appeal.
“We’re not taking away a right. It’s a privilege to not take your exam. The default is you take your exam, and they give exams at schools. That is part of our world,” Nichols said.
Under the 2020 Spring semester exemption guidelines, students must turn in their exempt forms with parent’s signatures to the high school main office no later than Tuesday, May 15, at 4:15 p.m.