400+ Richmond seniors to graduate despite excessive unexcused absences

400+ Richmond seniors to graduate despite excessive unexcused absences
RPS' policy has not been implemented since 2012.

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More than 400 seniors in the Richmond Public School System will graduate despite not having enough credits to technically do so because of unexcused absences.

On Monday night, the RPS School Board learned about a policy implemented in 2012 regarding unexcused absences; that policy however was never enforced.

"It's unacceptable," said RPS school board member Jonathan Young. "We have some real systemic problems in Richmond Public Schools."

The policy states that a student who has an excessive number of unexcused absences in a particular class shall "receive zero credit for that class regardless of her/his grade."

The administration became aware that RPS was not implementing the policy, and had not done so since its inception in 2012. The policy was not stated in the student handbook either.

"Right now what we're doing is most unfortunate, because it sends all the wrong messages to the students," Young said.

Young was one of two school board members to vote against suspending the policy for the remainder of the year.

As a result, more than 400 seniors in the RPS System will graduate in June.

"After a great deal of analysis, it has become clear that it would be essentially impossible to implement the policy at this point in the year," Boyd said during the presentation.

"I don't believe the 413 number, I know the problem is a lot bigger than that," Young said. "When you think about the scale of what we're describing and it's really, really troubling."

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michelle Boyd presented findings to the school board Monday night.

The allotted number of unexcused absences is as follows:

Policy for nine-week periods

  • Students cannot be absent from school without a valid excuse for more than six days (three if on a block schedule) per nine-week period.

Policy for semester periods

  • Students cannot be absent from school without a valid excuse for more than 10 days (five if on a block schedule) per semester.

"If they exceed the threshold allowed then it should be illegal and people should be held accountable," said Todd Loney, of Richmond.

Young believes most unexcused absences are coming from what he calls skippers and "hall walkers".

"These students are roaming the halls and often creating problems," he said. "Our teachers are standing at the doors encouraging them to join them to arrive in class."

"Why let somebody out that's illiterate?" asked Julie Peters. "Because if you're missing school you're illiterate."

Peters has grandchildren in Richmond schools. She said she herself used to skip school back in the day, but was held accountable.

"You went back," she said. "They didn't let you out. You had to stay there until you got to their qualifications."

"We've got a lot of people that unfortunately are graduating with a piece of paper and the words on there aren't worth the weight of the paper," Young said.

Loney added that it's not necessarily fair to the students who have worked hard throughout their high school years.

"You've got somebody dotting the i's and crossing the t's and doing everything they should do - they should be rewarded for doing the right thing," he said. "Then you've got somebody that's skating and getting by... you wonder when people get out here and they're not qualified to hold down the job."

When you let somebody out and they don't have the education qualifications that they need to succeed... they're making a bigger mess," Peters added.

"Folks downtown, including the school board refuse to hold our students accountable, and refuse to provide for any accountability," Young said. "It really is enabling our students in a way that's most unfortunate because we know if you don't show up for work then you're not going to get paid."

The administration will now review the policy and provide recommendations for changes to update the policy to students, families, and RPS staff prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school year, and make sure the revised policy is implemented and enforced.

Young said he has confidence in his fellow board members to correct the problem.

This decision was also made as RPS admitted several students had their GPA miscalculated on their transcripts.

SOUND OFF: Do you think the students deserve to get their diplomas? 

NBC12's Karina Bolster is covering this developing story and will have additional updates online and on air.

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