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Sunnyside High mulls rule changes for 2007-08 year

A tighter rein on unexcused absences and a ban on electronic devices could be in store for Sunnyside High School students this fall.

That's according to proposals recently submitted by school administrators.

Assistant Principal Heidi Hellner-Gomez said the high school recorded 10,500 hours of unexcused absences last year. That represents an average of about seven hours, or one entire school day, per student.

"I'm alarmed at the number of unexcused absences," Hellner-Gomez said. "One of our goals is to improve the attendance rate."

She noted the school previously didn't punish students for unexcused absences until they had missed several class periods.

That could change this year.

Hellner-Gomez would like to see the school give parents two instead of three days to provide a verbal or written reason why their student missed a class.

Modeled after a similar program at Richland High School, a phone call would go out to parents 24 hours after the absence to remind them a written or oral excuse is needed. That would be followed by a reminder to students during the next school day following the absence.

If an appropriate reason for the absence is not provided within two days, then the student would face an after-school detention.

Parents will get a chance to sound-off on the idea tonight (Thursday) during a public meeting set for 7 p.m. in the high school library.

"It's going to take a partnership of the school and parents to make it work," Hellner-Gomez says.

She is optimistic parents will take to the plan, since it provides safeguards to stay informed about student absences and skipped classes.

Parental assistance is key because the school district can take them to court if students miss three periods or more due to unexcused absences during five school days. Hellner-Gomez said the school district filed nine petitions last spring due to unexcused absences.

Penalties can include a $25 fine against the parents for every day their child has an unexcused absence or community service for the child and/or the parents.

Also at tonight's meeting, parents will be able to comment on a proposal that would prohibit students from bringing electronic devices to school. Cell phones are the only exception, and they must be turned off during class time.

The ban would cover i-Pods, cameras, handheld computer games and all other electronic devices.

Assistant Principal Ryan Maxwell said the proposals stems from the fact the school had so many thefts last year related to electronic devices. He also noted they distract students from learning.

If the proposal sticks, school staff can confiscate the devices when they see students use them and then require parents to come to the school and pick them up in person. Students could face detention if they violate the rule repeatedly.

The proposal would apply to cell phones in cases where students are using them during class time.

Following tonight's parent meeting, the attendance and electronic rule changes will still need approval by Principal Brian Hart and the Sunnyside School Board.

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