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Attendance policy approved despite parent concerns; School district to charge new $40 healthy snack fee

Perham-Dent School Board members unanimously approved this year's student handbook at a meeting last week, despite continued parental concerns about the verbiage of the attendance policy.

As at the July board meeting, a handful of parents told the board the attendance policy was inadequate in disclosing to parents that in cases of certain medical problems, students may leave the building without parental knowledge.

Minnesota's minors' consent laws, first enacted in 1971, give kids under the age of 18 the right to confidential medical attention for pregnancy, venereal disease, alcohol or drug use.

Some Perham parents fear kids have been abusing the laws, at least in part because they were aware of the laws while parents were not. Parents at the meeting said clearly stating the district's policy in the handbook would ensure that parents would be informed.

According to school officials, students rarely use minors' consent laws to leave the building in the Perham district: "It's not like it happens ten times a day, it's pretty infrequent," school board member Cyndy Huber said.

Elementary school Principal Kari Yates reminded the parents that the law was meant to protect kids who live in situations where asking a parent to seek medical attention for something like a pregnancy would put them at risk. The only option for those students is to seek help during school hours.

"Ultimately, its the protection of the student first," said board member Mike Hamann.

The new handbook states that excused absences, "need to be verified at the time of the absence either by the parent, school personnel, or the attending medical or legal official personnel."

It also expanded the excused absence list to include: "Medical/Dental appointments that cannot be made outside of school time, and that a student determines to be necessary for their own health and safety."

The policy has changed slightly this year, high school Principal Ehren Zimmerman explained. If a student asks to leave the school, he or she will be marked as unexcused until returning with a provider's note.

Since too many unexcused absences can result in consequences - such as conferences with parents or lower grades - administration believes students will be less likely to leave the building under minors' consent laws unless they truly are going to the doctor, in which case they can bring back a note.

Like last year, if parents were to inquire about an absence - which would be shown online on the student's record - the school's response would be that the absence falls within the attendance policy; but in order to abide by the law, no more information would be disclosed.

The school district has received legal advice on the matter, which upholds the current policy as it stands.

In other news, the board approved the extension of a part time teacher to a full time teacher. This teacher will help with third and fourth grade classrooms for additional support, especially for reading.

Also, the fresh fruit and veggie grant was not awarded to the district this year.

In order to continue providing a healthy snack for every student, the board approved a healthy snack fee, which will ask parents for $40 a year to help ensure all kids have snacks. The school will also ask the community for donations to help cover costs for families who cannot afford that amount.