The Summit Hill School Board determined that the School Board Policy Committee should review the district’s procedure regarding missing assignments and late homework for students in grades 3-8 after a lively discussion during Wednesday’s board meeting.
“This is about holding students accountable,” said assistant superintendent Jim Martin.
According to the district’s 2012-2013 Parent/Student Handbook, students in grades 3-8 who fail to turn in an assignment on time are given a referral. The student must return the referral, with a parental signature and completed homework, the day following their missed assignment.
If a student does not follow district policy, the conflict is identified as behavioral, rather than academic. Failure to comply with the referral system is considered an act of insubordination. Repeated infractions result in an escalation of consequences, in alignment with the district’s progressive discipline model.
Students who turn in an assignment one day late are also docked anywhere from one letter grade to 30 percent of the total possible points, depending on the student’s grade level. If an assignment is turned in more than one day late, the student receives an automatic zero on the assignment, regardless of grade level.
The board discussed the importance of using common sense when implementing the policy with students experiencing extenuating circumstances, such as a hospitalized family member.
Board member Sean William Doyle stated that he wants to see the language of the late homework procedure changed.
Doyle said he examined comparable policies in six surrounding districts and found that each of them used generic language regarding late homework, and that several district handbooks did not discuss missing assignments at all.
“One missing assignment is not going to lead to a life of crime,” said Doyle.
The district’s current late homework policy was determined last year. The intent of the procedure is to communicate the occurrence of a missed assignment to parents as quickly as possible and to document consistent problems as they develop.
Previously, district policy stated that parents would be notified about late homework through PowerSchool, the district’s online grading program. However, because the program is not updated daily, it was difficult for parents to hold students accountable for missed assignments.
District staff members have encountered challenges applying the new procedure in the classroom. Michael Ruffalo, the principal of Hilda Walker School, said that his staff want to follow the handbook, but are hesitant to do so in case-by-case situations.
Ruffalo also said he has noticed inconsistencies in the amount of referrals he receives from teacher to teacher.
Board member Stacey Borgens said that her daughter has told her students are terrified of receiving a pink slip referral sheet.
“It will make them think twice about not getting their homework done,” said Borgens.
District parent Mark Zilinskas did not share Borgens’ enthusiasm for the policy. Rather, he spoke out against the procedure during Wednesday’s public comments.
Zilinskas’ son, who is an honors student at Hilda Walker, has received two referrals since the 2012-2013 school year began, both of which Zilinskas felt were unfairly dealt.
Zilinskas told the board he refuses to sign a third pink slip.
“There’s got to be flexibility,” he said. “There’s got to be some gray area.”
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