Graduates from the Baraboo High School class of 2019 will not have to adhere to a former school attendance policy in order to walk across the stage during commencement next week after the school board repealed it Monday.
The policy, which governs student participation in the graduation ceremony, includes a requirement that they attend school for at least 90% of both semesters in their senior year, with exceptions for family emergencies, medical appointments, funerals and other special circumstances.
Baraboo School Board President Kevin Vodak said he wanted to put the issue into context to explain why the board was considering repealing the policy this year as opposed to previous years.
“The school district from November of last year until this spring has gone through a time and test that, since my service on the board, has never happened,” Vodak said, alluding to the public outrage that resulted from a viral photo of Baraboo students before their junior prom last year because some appeared to be giving a Nazi salute.
“And I know there were times in the fall and there were times earlier this winter — some of the concerns were weather-related — but there were times that parents were questioning whether or not they should send their kids to school” because of real and perceived threats, he said.
Glenn Bildsten, high school principal, did not respond Wednesday to requests from the Baraboo News Republic for the number of seniors who failed to meet the attendance requirement this year. District Administrator Lori Mueller said she thought it was under 20.
Mueller said the original reason the board discussed the policy was because members wanted to study it further to determine if it’s equitable for all students.
“I think it’s important for us to look at the impact that the policy has on all of our students and determine if it is, indeed, equitable for all,” she said.
Board member Nancy Thome emphasized that point during Monday’s board meeting, and said she agreed with Vodak but also wanted to evaluate the policy “through an equity lens.” She said some students might have an attendance problem due to depression or other mental health concerns that are undiagnosed or not being properly treated. If they aren’t seeing a mental health professional — or their parents can’t afford one — then the students can’t get a doctor’s note to excuse an absence.
The best thing to do, Thome said, is repeal and revise the policy after further study.
While he acknowledged “this was a very difficult year,” board member Tim Heilman said he couldn’t support repeal, adding that it was a policy all members had approved. According to the policy, it was last revised in September 2016.
“It just seems to be a very tough time to say we’re now going to move this policy aside,” Heilman said.
The board voted 6-1 to repeal the section of policy for the purpose of further study, with Heilman voting against. It takes immediate effect, allowing all graduating seniors to participate in the ceremony scheduled for May 31.
High school administrators are reviewing the policy and will have recommendations for the policy committee early next month, said board member Doug Mering.
Vodak said he thinks the district is stronger for going through the trials of this year and probably wouldn’t otherwise have put such a focus on equity.
“I think that this is a difficult year to get through,” he said. “We’re getting through it, the kids are getting through it, and I would not withhold someone walking across the stage because of an attendance issue at school.”