JANESVILLE

In April, the Janesville School Board changed the school attendance rules for 18-year-old high school seniors.

Here are five things parents and students need to know.

1. What’s changed?

In the past, high school seniors who were 18 and attended Janesville schools were able to sign themselves in and out of school and call in their own sick days.

That will still be the case. However, the new rules require those seniors to get notes from parents or guardians showing that they have been informed and approve of the absence. No parental signature means the absence will be counted as unexcused.

Craig and Parker high school student handbooks—and state laws—say, “Students may not be absent without an acceptable excuse part or all of five or more days per semester.”

2. If it’s state law, how is this a change?

Students who are 18 and older are protected by FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Here’s how the U.S. Department of Education summed up the law: “FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.” That means students can decide if they want their parents to receive their grades—or any other communications from their schools.

3. Won’t the new policy violate FERPA regulations?

No. In an April memo to the school board, former student services coordinator Christine Wesling wrote, “The policy does not remove an adult student’s ability to make a decision for themselves related to school attendance. It does require accountability prior to a student leaving the educational setting.”

So 18-year-olds still can make decisions about how they come and go, but the school can require additional paperwork.

4. Why is the change occurring?

During the 2015-16 school year, the Craig High School AP Statistics class tracked student absences. More specifically, the class looked at the percentage of students who missed more than 10 days of school. Falling into that category were:

  • 62 percent of 18-year-old seniors.
  • 58 percent of all seniors.
  • 44 percent of juniors.
  • 40 percent of sophomores.
  • 30 percent of freshmen.

Good attendance at school is considered one of the “workplace readiness” skills the Janesville School District wants to teach, Wesling wrote.

Finally, the state Department of Public Instruction tracks truancy rates, and student attendance records are part of students’ transcripts.

5. How are homeless students affected?

Homeless or independent students will need the signature of an administrator for an absence to be excused.

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