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School districts re-examine attendance policies amid new educational model

School districts throughout the region are asking families to act with an abundance of caution when it comes to students exhibiting potential covid-19 symptoms.

If a student is showing any of the 13 symptoms closely associated with the virus, districts are asking parents to keep them home.

That didn’t work out how Franklin Regional parent Christy Manzewitsch had hoped.

“If a parent elects to keep their child home, and the child logs in to their classes throughout the day, they are still counted as absent, even though they are participating in their classes,” Manzewitsch wrote in an email read during the public comment session of a recent school board meeting.

That situation has school administrators throughout Western Pennsylvania re-examining how attendance functions now that so many have new educational models in place.

In the Hempfield Area School District, administrators extended the number of allowed excused absences from 10 to 15 before the district requires a medical excuse, “because we knew we’d have students out because of covid symptoms,” Superintendent Tammy Wolicki said.

“If they’re engaging in their work, they’re not considered absent,” she said. “You don’t want children coming to school if they might be sick, and are worried they’ll have to get a medical excuse. But you also don’t want kids just choosing to stay home.”

Principal approval is required in Hempfield for absences due to quarantine, as well as extended absences.

Franklin Regional Assistant Superintendent Robin Pynos said the important thing was for the district’s policy to show accountability to the state education department.

“We don’t want it to be a situation where it’s abused,” Pynos said. “And we don’t want to punish parents for being cautious. We just need a little time to frame out the particulars.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s emergency planning guidelines include a section on calculating attendance for students learning in a hybrid or at-home model, but do not specifically address keeping an in-person student home out of caution.

Manzewitsch said school districts need to have policies that don’t conflict.

“These kids should not be penalized with absences for following the guidelines that the school has enacted,” she wrote to Franklin Regional board members. “If the district is asking parents to exercise an abundance of caution and not send their child to school sick, then the district should have a policy regarding absence which encourages families to do so.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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