Virginia’s Public Schools Need to Stay in Their Lane Regarding Student Absences

Stephanie Lundquist-Arora | April 11, 2024

(The Washington Examiner) — This weekend, as we sat on the sidelines of our children’s lacrosse game, a mother told me about an incident at her son’s Fairfax County public school. When her mother, the student’s grandmother, went into his school late to sign in her grandson following his doctor’s appointment, the administrative assistant looked at her doubtingly and asked, “Are you sure he had a doctor’s appointment?”

Over the years, other parents have shared similar stories with me about the sanctimonious gatekeepers in the offices of our children’s public schools. Unfortunately, the invasive lines of questioning are codified in school policy to determine whether or not our reasons to excuse our own children from school are sufficient.

In December 2023, I received a notification from my son’s school that he had unexcused absences. I found this peculiar because I had excused him each time he was not in school. When I excuse my sons from school, I indicate “personal” — because it is. The reasons my sons are out of school are absolutely none of the district’s or the state’s business, as long as I am aware that they are not there.

A patient district administrator sympathetically explained to me at that time that the school was simply following district and state policy. Fairfax County Public Schools has a specific category for absences for which the parent excuses the student but does not provide a reason that he or she is missing called “unexcused locally defined.” Although it appears on students’ transcripts as “unexcused,” the policy is meant to allow students to make up their work and tests for that day.

The district administrator further informed me, to my surprise, that the “unexcused locally defined” category of absence is based on Virginia’s state policy. State law includes in its definition of an unexcused absence an absence in which “the parent provides a reason for the absence that is unacceptable to the school administration.”