PRESENCE POLICY IGNITES PASSIONS

 

Hattie Cookson

On Tuesday September 20, 2016 an email from the Communications Office was sent out concerning the Waring School attendance policy. In the days that followed many of the students and faculty of the school have expressed very strong feelings about the policy and its delivery.

Many of the students seemed to support the policy that the school came out with, due to issues with prolonged absences in recent years. However, some seemed to think that the wording of the email was extremely harsh. Jackson Tham stated, “I’m not completely opposed to the policy, [but] I was alarmed when I first read it because of the language. I think the process was a little odd and seemed in conflict with the ethic we talked about in meeting.”

Many students initially believed that the percentages and numbers sounded intimidating and punitive. As Maura McCarthy put it “I just wish there had been more explanation, because some of the things in the policy, I had never heard of before, like the reentry meeting. It first it seemed more like a punishment, and something that I should be scared of going into, but once I got an explanation about it, I don’t feel like I should be scared anymore.”

The particulars of this new policy were discussed exhaustively in two sessions during August faculty meetings. Tony Boisvert says as well that the Presence Policy was not the first time that tardiness and absences were discussed, that it is a perennial subject. “If I could have a dollar for every time we’ve discussed attendance and lateness in faculty meeting, I could retire. It’s been hours of my life I will never get back, just to talk about something we will never be able to change: that sometimes students are late or miss school.”

On Friday September 23, we discussed the policy as a school, in afternoon meeting. The majority of the students who spoke up in meeting initially seemed to have a negative opinion of the policy, while all the faculty who contributed to the discussion appeared to support the policy entirely.

As the meeting proceeded, explanations and reasoning were offered to the students. Jeff Levering explained that the meeting with him before returning to classes after being absent for a certain amount of time, is meant to be in the interest of the student making a successful transition back into Waring. And Becky pointed out that the rest of the handbook is also written in the same type of language and it has never brought up a discussion with such strong opinions. As she said “Most of the handbook is written in this language. I understand that the email distribution with no cover letter was maybe a big surprise. But, it is not inconsistent with the way that all of our other policies are communicated.” Since then, Tony Boisvert has wondered if this might not be an indication of how closely students actually read the rest of the handbook.

By the end of the meeting it seemed as though most of the students thought there should have been more explanation of context and intent in the email, and maybe a discussion with students before the email was sent out. But no one continued to disagree with the policy as such, at least in discussion. As Henry Gribbell stated near the end of the meeting, “I don’t think an email is the best way to express the application of new additions to the handbook, if no one knows anything about the new policies beforehand. Part of the problem is that, if we had had a conversation about it like we did about etiquette, there would be a lot more understanding to the situation.”

To bring the discussion to a close and bridge the gap of opinions, Tim Bakland very eloquently said, “I am aware that the world is becoming more policy driven. We, the faculty are aware of this too and the Waring School, as much as we can, fights against that tendency. We really want to embrace a spirit here. The Waring faculty have had policies that have come up over the last few years—an employee manual and then several policies that were added to that—and those conversations have been alarmingly similar to this. We’re all in this together, so thank you.”

 

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