Parents petition attendance policy in Horry County schools

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF ) – As the last days of summer dwindle, parents are pushing for a change in the district's attendance policy.

The policy in place is state law, and allows students to have 10 unexcused, or unlawful, absences. However, many families are seeing consequences after five.

"For the rest of the calendar year, you can't be dismissed early, you can't be late, you can't be absent without a doctor's note," said Nicole Couilliard, a parent recently placed on an Attendance Intervention Plan, or AIP, after her child missed five days of school.

She is under the impression those consequences are already held against her student, before this school year even begins.

In the Horry County School District 2014-2015 Policy Guide, it is explained that intervention for unlawful absences will begin after three consecutive days of missing school or after five unlawful absences. At that point, the principal will immediately establish contact with the parent to arrange a conference.

During that conference, the principal will develop a written plan with the parent to reach an understanding regarding future attendance. If, at any point after that conference, the student is absent again, he or she will be immediately referred to the District's Attendance Coordinator.

That could then lead to family court, where possible fines or jail time could be imposed.

However, the school district doesn't want it to get to that point.

"We want kids in schools. If there are barriers that the family is experiencing we want to know how we can intervene before it gets to a family court situation," explained Teal Harding, a spokeswoman for the Horry County School District.

Harding encourages parents to have open communication with administration.

"If they don't go to the doctor every single time, they should at least contact the district to put together a medical health plan, so the administration has a reference point," said Harding.

She points out administration reserves the right to waive certain absences in extenuating circumstances:

"If someone in the immediate family is suffering from an illness, has a death in the family, as well as any religious holidays, not accounted for on the school calendar, if a family loses their home to a fire," she listed.

She suggested families take the time to look over the school's calendar before planning any trips. If the trip is made around scheduled time off, it won't count against the student.

However, Couilliard thinks the policy should be more lenient.

"Not everyone in Myrtle Beach can go on vacation during the summer, especially families working in the hospitality industry. If the student is able to make up the class work, they should be able to go on vacation with their parents," she suggested.

She would like to see the policy become more flexible and for families not to be placed on an AIP after only five absences. She is part of a group of parents now pushing to change the policy.

A petition was created after more than 100 families were placed on an AIP in just one month.

"That has to be a sign of something being wrong," voiced Couilliard.

At this time, the petition has more than 1,400 signatures. On Thursday, school officials will meet with parents to discuss the attendance policy and to address any concerns. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 1 p.m. at Carolina Forest High School.

Here is the link to the petition:

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