You may be unexcused

December 29, 2016

A tire pops. Mom decides to have an untimely argument with the neighbor before slamming on the gas to get her teen through the gates before 7:20 a.m. A best friend that carpools with you left a project at home and failed to consider the unexcused tardy you would receive for the minivan that got turned around against your will to pick it up. This year’s new detention policy does not have loopholes.

“We were having a lot of tardies to the point they would be in the triple digits, with or without traffic,” assistant principal Karina Menendez said. “It’s the same reasons across the district. It’s not a school thing, as far as what’s considered permissible and non-permissible.”

Outside of student illness; a documented medical appointment; death in the family; observance of a religious holiday; a school-sponsored event; a documented court appearance; and outdoor suspension; students receive penalty for their tardiness. The attendance clerk, Ms. Brenda Cox-McDonald, will not even accept admits for appointments without an actual note from the doctor unless a parent comes in.

“It’s a lot of discrepancy because the kids [are] forgetting when they go to the doctor or they go to appointments,” Cox-McDonald said. “If they go to the doctor, they need to get a doctor’s note.  We don’t know whether they [are] telling the truth.”

Freshman Gabriella Reyes disagrees with this new policy. On Nov. 18 she reported receiving her first detention for being late after having an appointment without bringing in a doctor’s note.

Everything about it –it’s unfair because we’re coming to this school and we don’t have a note or anything and a detention takes time out of your day,” Reyes said. “They shouldn’t make that a rule at all.”

Sometimes, however, if a volunteer or an aide does not have detention slips or is unaware of this policy, students may not receive detentions for an unexcused tardy, which has happened before. Menendez also claims to dismiss all first and second unexcused tardies if students approach her individually.

“There may have been some kind of a misunderstanding that people get detentions on the first tardy. If someone gets a tardy for the first time or the second time and they bring it to my attention, we dismiss the detention right off the bat,” Menendez said. “When you have a line of fifty people, you don’t necessarily know that the student that’s arriving that that’s their first time, so the idea is quick, easy. “

To direct the average 80 to 120 students to class that come in late every morning, any student with an unexcused tardy receives a detention from an office volunteer or student aide to save time and get them to class quickly. Menendez relates issues with giving out detentions to first-timers to technical difficulties with the former electronic attendance system Palmetto had last year.

The machine in the office would automatically keep track of how many tardies a student had and assign detentions from three or more unexcused tardies. The need to update the system came with a delay Menendez hopes to correct by the middle of this grading period.

Menendez initiated discussion of the policy with administration, who decided together to implement it; however, she only started enforcing it three weeks after the school year began for the sake of intervening when student consistently came to school late. Detention facilitator and AP european history teacher Daniel Corradino believes that cracking down on unexcused tardies can help eliminate other issues.

“Detention is not just to be mean to these guys or anything like that. For me, from an intervention perspective…I can help out the school,” Corradino said. “Because if kids are having a rough time just getting here, they’re probably having a rough time in other classes and you’ve got to get the counselor involved.”

Since attendance could signal larger issues at hand, Corradino goes through students’ attendance records and grades before giving out referrals for Saturday detentions. Recalling his time teaching at John A. Ferguson High School when he saw some students living out of their cars, Corradino believes that intervening early on could help prevent more severe issues when outside services or help is needed.

“The sooner you find out about it, the more you can do something about it,” Corradino said. “You don’t want to wait until they’re a senior and then you’re crunching credits to see if they’re going to graduate.”

Detentions occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for an hour after school with either Corradino or chemistry teacher Hermann Amador. The 20 to 60 students that show up cannot talk, listen to music or sleep, but they may read, complete schoolwork or even use their phone or device to do home learning.

If a student misses a detention, they will go to Saturday school, which occurs twice a month for two hours, one hour spent as a normal detention and the other picking up trash around campus. If they miss Saturday school, they receive CSI, indoor suspension during a school day.

Corradino also believes the school’s logistical design factors into Palmetto’s attendance issue. Multiple entrances and parking lots do not force students to funnel into one area when they can hop the fence or sprint through the gates by the gym after 7:20.

“There’s more than one entrance, but kids often find a way to kind of get in here. [At] other schools, it’s much more difficult,” Corradino said. “Newer schools, there’s really only one way in and one way out.”

Regardless of administration’s intentions with this method of discipline, junior Markus Kock believes this year’s tardy policy may do more harm than good.

“It encourages students to be absent, because if you’re absent you don’t get the detention,” Markus said.

Senior Erika De La Cruz decided to attend class anyway when her car’s tire became dangerously low on the way to school. She called her parents, had her vehicle towed and her mom took her to school that morning, only to receive an unexcused tardy and a detention slip. Car problems do not count as unexcused tardies.

“They should do something, add more things that you can put down. I’m not gonna lie and say ‘Oh, I’m sick’ when it’s really my car,” De La Cruz said. “It’s not like I woke up late or something like that. I was driving to school and my tire popped. I can’t avoid it. That wasn’t on my hands.”

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