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Cutting classes a concern

Administrators frown upon tradition ofplaying hooky

Administrators frown upon tradition ofplaying hooky

May 06, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

The notion that students pick certain days to skip school makes administrators' hearts skip a beat.

"We don't support that in any way," said Boyd Michael III, the director of secondary education for Washington County Public Schools.

Michael suggested that even writing an article in The Herald-Mail on the topic could send the wrong message.

"Please don't support or promote senior hook day," he urged a reporter.

A few former Washington County public school students said the practice is common.

Sara Taylor, 19, who graduated from Williamsport High School last year, said groups of seniors missed school together whenever they wanted to.

Becky Pulieri, 19, Taylor's classmate at Williamsport, said one teacher asks students when they plan to skip school so an important lesson won't be scheduled that day.

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That isn't what school officials want to hear.

Administrators in three Tri-State school districts said strict attendance policies usually dissuade students from playing hooky.

Smithsburg High School students who miss school without valid reasons may be sent to two-hour detention sessions at 6:30 a.m., Principal Jeffrey Stouffer said. Too many absences or late arrivals could result in lost credits.

The number of unexcused days allowed per semester dropped from 24 to 18 to 12, and now stands at six, Stouffer said.

"I would be lying if I said everyone's pleased by the attendance policy," he said.

If a student at Musselman High School in Inwood, W.Va., misses more than six days of a class, he has to make up the unexcused time, hour for hour, or he can't pass, Principal Kitty Cauffman said.

"We have a good student population," she said. "They like to come to school."

Students at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa., are permitted three unexcused absences per year, Principal Robert Beaumont said.

Students younger than 17 who miss more than that may be sent to court. They could be fined up to $150 or ordered to perform community service, Beaumont said.

Students older than 17 could be kicked out of school or have credits withheld.

"They kind of really need to be here," Beaumont said.

Inevitably, students test those policies.

"Seniors get a little tired," Cauffman said. "They don't want to work as hard, so you have to get on them."

She said seniors sometimes plan to take a day off - until she gets wind of it.

This year, she announced over the public address system that the school would call the parents of each absent student, which may have deflated the plan.

Cauffman said this year's skip day was posted on the Internet.

She said she can also find out in advance by asking the right students.

"And they'll tell ya," she said. "They're funny things."

The attendance rate at Smithsburg - about 97 percent - is the highest among Washington County public secondary schools.

Still, Stouffer said it's tough to thwart senior skip day in advance.

"They pick a day. They don't come out and tell us," he said.

"It just drives me up a wall," said Beaumont, whose seniors have already skipped out of school for a "breakfast day" this year. Many came back for afternoon classes, he said.

Beaumont gets nervous when a large group of students doesn't show up to school. He said his mind sifts through the possibilities, including the tragic ones. Are the students sitting in a field somewhere drinking alcohol? Are they being responsible?

"We've had a lot of student deaths," Beaumont said.

Joshua Trammelle, 18, who graduated from Smithsburg High School last year, said days of hooky were usually planned with a purpose. He said he took several day trips his senior year, usually to Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia.

Other times, he told teachers he had spent the previous day visiting colleges.

"And I never went to one," Trammelle said.

Trammelle, Taylor and Pulieri, all freshmen at Hagerstown Community College, said they don't regret the days they took off in high school.

They said a lot of seniors take their required English class first semester, which lets them slack off in the second semester.

"I'm a coaster," Taylor said.

David Taylor, Sara's father, said he supports a senior skip day in the spring, as long as students work hard and earn good grades all year.

"One day is OK," he said, "but beyond that is stretching it."

School officials would rather see the tradition end.

"Kids are kids," Hancock Middle-Senior High School Principal John Davidson said. "They're doing the same things we were doing when we were kids."

But while senior skip day may have been treated as a custom in the past, principals are clamping down, Davidson said.

"We constantly work on it," he said. "As soon as you let up, it slides on you."

"I, as principal, expect students to be here every day," Stouffer said.

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