On the Topic of Student Absenteeism: When is Policy Overhaul Too Much?

Student Absenteeism. | Source: Our Children

Although a handful of administrative changes have been made at IMSA this year, one of the most notable has been the change to the attendance policy. From the location of the attendance office to the process of using stress mods and mental health days, the mental health system that students became familiar with last year has had a complete overhaul. To gauge the thoughts of people around IMSA regarding these new changes, Acronym Staff Writer, Sree Atyam (SA) interviewed Mr. Paul Gaszak (PG), Dean of Academics and Equity, and several students of IMSA, employing the opinions of senior students Jesrein Ayeyi (JA), Chiamaka Okoli (CO), Hagen Arriaga (HA), and Andre Mendez (AM). To begin, PG reflects on overall policy changes and intended results. Note that this piece has been edited for clarity.


SA: What are some differences that you noted in student absenteeism as a whole from this year and last year?

PG: Since last year, there have been definite improvements and some changes on the topic of absenteeism and attendance across the board. As you can recall from last year, there were a lot more overall absence issues going on in the school, such as skipping classes and lateness in general. Stress mods were used to skip class to study for the next one and created an unsustainable study method for students and teachers alike; mental health days were also used to skip days when students had tests or other important graded work, creating an unhealthy workload for students. So, there were a lot more unexcused absences as a whole last year, giving more reason for the inclusion of extended breaks, and giving students a chance to recuperate academically, and mentally. However, the issue of overall absence was further worsened; for example, there were many instances in which students would use these extended breaks, go on trips, and spend a lot more time away from school than the extended is intended for. Therefore, mental health days are now monitored more heavily, where students can relax in supervised areas and get the support they need inside the main building. Although lateness is decided based on teacher discretion on what is considered “late,” there were also quite a bit more late markings in the gradebook for our students last year. Eventually, this turned into a pattern, causing attendance issues and creating a catch-up game for students who were missing school.  This year, however, most of these issues were eliminated due to the new attendance policies and the consolidation of all the extended breaks into one break.


SA: Are there any other new details or new changes that you would like to highlight?

PG: Certainly! As all the upperclassmen already are aware of, Titan Crew this year is no more and is instead replaced with Support and Engagement. Due to the overwhelming opinion from the IMSA community regarding the usefulness of Titan Crew, and the attendance issues of that program, we as an administration decided to remove Titan Crew as a course for our students and instead implemented a time when students and staff could both have free time to discuss classwork, and provided assistance if necessary. This Support and Engagement period has generally been received quite well and is an improvement over the effectiveness of Titan Crew. It also prevents the misuse of resources like the aforementioned stress mods.  We have also incorporated attendance recognition awards, which can be explored more in detail in the Student-Parent Handbook


Now, we will delve into the opinions of the student body and how they feel about student absenteeism in general, and some thoughts about the policy changes this year as well. JA, CO, HA, and AM share their thoughts.

SA: Do you like the idea of spending your entire day in the MHD room where the attendance office used to be? Anything else you would like to add?

JA: I would rate Mental health days last year about 8.5/10, as I was able to sleep in and take the rest I needed in the comfort of my room, which was the reason I took them in the first place. If I decided to work or do anything, it was in an environment of my choosing which made me comfortable and boosted my mental morale. The only issue I would say is making students opt out of extracurriculars because those can act as de-stressors. I would rate Mental Health Days this year a 5.5/10 as I could not get the rest needed. I was in an uncomfortable environment constantly, and there was still no option of attending extracurriculars. On the note of stress mods, I haven’t taken any stress mods in the past two years, but last year, there was more information about MHDs and stress mods. This year, students don’t know where to be for how long and why. The MHD room feels like a prison, and so does the IRC. The location restrictions make you feel trapped. I hate the current implementation and hope for more attention on this issue to be brought to admin.

CO: I don’t like the idea of spending the entire day in the mental health day room. I liked having the option to stay in my room because that’s where I felt most comfortable. In the IRC or MHD room, you don’t have as much comfort, and there’s a window so you don’t have the amenity of privacy.

HA: Last year, I took one mental health day the whole year, and I have never utilized a stress mod. Although I only took one mental health day, I enjoyed having the liberty to go around campus, which helped me destress since I felt uneasy after staying in one for over an hour.  I feel as if there is a little more information on the process of what to do during mental health days throughout the school day. Last year, I had no clue about the process of taking a mental health day, but this year, I am now conscious of the process. I do not like the idea of spending the entire day in one place, as I feel like spending the entire day in the MHD room ruins the purpose of MHDs in the first place. The room is at the entrance of A wing and has an open ceiling, which allows for all conversations to be heard and would disturb the person in the MHD room trying to relax. Also, people have multiple ways of dealing with stress or pressure, but the MHD room only limits the possibilities.

AM: This year, I have not taken the opportunity yet to take a MHD or stress mods. However, I do not like the way things are set up this year. Stress mods seem almost nonexistent due to the difficulty of asking for one. I have also heard that stress mods are not a mod but more like 15 minutes to talk. I miss having a mod off to destress and focus before your next class. With MHD, not being able to stay in your room is a real bummer. The school building causes stress just by being surrounded by that energy, and I believe the dormitory is the best place to be, but that can’t happen anymore. This year, they seem to be trying to avoid us taking those days at all costs. The old attendance office is uninviting and seems very bland, not a place that can benefit our mental health.


As we have seen from both administration and student perception, the new changes regarding student absenteeism have been quite distinct, and have had varying impacts on the community. While the school administration has done a good job with Support and Engagement and promoting student and teacher interaction and discussion, students still have concerns about how to account for their health and comfort. The process of attaining stress mods and MHDs needs to be made more concrete, with some new students needing help but not understanding how to access it. There needs to be continued student response to cause a positive change for students and staff alike to maximize extracurricular and academic excellence. 

About the Author

Sree Atyam
Hi! My name is Sree and it's nice to meet you! I am a junior and I live in 1505 D-Wing. In my free time, you might see me listening to music, playing basketball, or cooking food! Feel free to drop by any time to chat!

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