On Jan. 8, I sent a letter to Montclair Local (published Jan. 12) entitled "Outdated school attendance policy: absence with a doctor's note must become an excused absence." In that letter, I mentioned that I had also written to the state Board of Education. On Jan. 9, I got a response from Beth Auerswald, office of the state Board of Education (stateboardoffice@doe.nj.gov). In her reply, she wrote the following: "N.J.A.C. 6A:32-8.4(f) allows...district boards of education to adopt policies that establish locally approved or excused absences..."

Surprised by this information, I wrote to the Montclair Board of Education on Jan. 12 "that the Montclair school district and Board of Education have been misinformed. We ARE allowed to designate absence for sickness with a doctor's note as a valid excuse, and such absences would no longer count as potential truancy within the district...Time to end the contradictory messaging. Absences for sickness documented by a doctor's note must become excused absences."  

The president of the Montclair Board of Education, Allison Silverstein, replied to my message on Jan. 17, saying, "We have very detailed policy and regulations (Policy 5200 and Regulation 5200) regarding attendance. These policies are mostly forms that are sent to us to reflect state laws and regulations. There are limited portions of the policy that allow for districts to "make their own," but those are usually very small pieces of each policy. I was involved in the most recent amendment to the policy and regulation, and I can say that we efforted to make these as reflective as we could of parent, staff and community concerns while operating within the statutory framework."

In other words, as I read this reply, the "statutory framework" does not appear to provide our local district the ability to make our own policy on absence due to sickness, despite what Beth Auerswald had written me. 

Confused by this apparent contradiction, I wrote back to Ms. Silverstein, "How about a simple direct answer to the following question: Will you allow absence for sickness with a doctor's note to be an excused absence in the Montclair school district? If you will not allow that, please explain why you instruct parents to keep their children home when they are sick, since the absence will not be excused?"

This seems to be another manifestation of "Catch 22." The state says our local board can make documented sickness an excused absence, but our local board says that state policies preclude that.

Regardless of which interpretation is correct, what's important is that the policy has to change. We are still in a pandemic! Policies that discourage parents from keeping sick children out of school are dangerous to public health. If new legislation at the state level is needed, then I call upon our representatives to enact such legislation. 

In the interim, our school board needs to step up for the sake of everyone's health and amend attendance policy so that documented sickness is an excused absence. Given Beth Auerswald's message to me, it is unlikely that we will incur sanctions or discipline from the state by adopting this policy.

Emanuel Goldman