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Decision Number
Tami Schmidt
Gary Schmidt
Waterloo Community School District
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Beginning with the 1995-96 school year, the Waterloo Community School District's Board of Directors decided to introduce a restrictive, new attendance policy to stem the tide of absenteeism witnessed during the previous school year. Dr. Cunningham, deputy superintendent, testified that he is the person most involved with the interpretation and enforcement of the policy on a district-wide basis. Although he was not involved in the process himself, he testified that a task force of parents and students did have input during the development of the policy. At each school, the principal or in this case, the assistant principal, is responsible for applying the policy to individual students. The bottom line of the new policy is that students who cut class persistently will be expelled from school. Dr. Cunningham testified that although there could be a lot of expulsions initially, once the students realize that the District is serious about attendance, they will meet these expectations.The policy sets different attendance expectations for elementary, intermediate and high school students. During the time giving rise to this appeal, Appellant's daughter was a ninth grade student at West High School in Waterloo. The policy as it applies in high school, provides that students can be expelled for the semester after the eighth absence (counting excused and unexcused together). Principals can reinstate students on a pro-bationary status in cases of an extended illness. Students can be expelled for the remainder of the semester on the second truancy.

When this appeal arose, Tami Marie Schmidt was a 14-year-old freshman at West High School. Although Tami had been a straight-A student for most of her life, she did not adjust well to high school. Her mother began to notice behavioral changes at home and declining grades at school. Ms. Schmidt testified that she suspected drug abuse and asked school personnel to call her if they noticed anything unusual. She said she never received a call from the school. Board president Pam Miller stated that the School Board does not want to expel students, but daily attendance rates were not acceptable and something had to be done. In her opinion, the policy has been successful in the District. Ms. Miller testified that it is not the teachers' duty to police the students. It is the law that students attend school. If parents are unsuccessful in getting their students to attend school, then "the law recognizes expulsion may be necessary." In rebuttal, Ms. Schmidt stated that they felt that they had just gotten Tami under control when the District expelled her "and refused to educate her." She testified that it seemed contradictory to her that "in criminal court, they treat each case individually; while in the schools, every student is treated exactly the same."

It is an often stated legal axiom in Iowa that when a school board adopts a policy for the operation of its schools, the pol-icy is presumed to be reasonable. The burden of proving the pol-icy unreasonable is upon those challenging the policy. In re Sandra Mitchell, 1 D.P.I. App. Dec. 201, 204 (1978)(citing, Board of Directors v. Green, 147 N.W.2d 854 (1967). In this case, the Appellant has overcome this presumption of reasonableness. We find that the District's policy of expelling students upon their second truancy is not reasonable on either legal or educational grounds. See, 281--IAC 6.11(2); see, also, In re Debra Miller, et al., 13 D.o.E. App. Dec. 302, 315-318 (1996).

The 1987 Statement of the State Board states that the distinc-tion between excused and unexcused absences "should not affect a student's grade, the potential for credit, or right to make up missed assignments ? ." This would indicate that an attendance policy which denied a student course credit or dropped the student from a class because of excessive absences, would be invalidated by the State Board on appeal. However, subsequent to the 1987 statement, a decision was rendered which stated: "No attendance rule which denies credit to a student for excessive absences will be upheld unless the absences are for unexcused reasons or truancy. In re Lorne Segerstrom, 9 D.o.E. App. Dec. 38, 44 (1991)(emphasis added). In the most recent attendance policy appeal, the Segerstrom case was referred to but clarified as follows: "We have accepted, for the sake of discussion, that an attendance rule can result in loss of credit. We do not wish to be understood as advocating that particular penalty." In re Shane Manning, 9 D.o.E. App. Dec. 260, 263 n.2 (1992)(emphasis in original). Although the loss of credit for unexcused absences was not "advocated," it was not prohibited. As a result, it appears that many Iowa school districts have adopted attendance policies that deny course credit as a penalty for absenteeism. Although court cases involving challenges to grade reduction for absences generally find fault with such policies, each decision seems to be grounded on a somewhat different rationale. Most of the courts have found that grade reduction policies for absences are ultra vires, or beyond the school board's authority to promulgate. See, "High School Grade Reductions for Absenteeism: Incentive or Curse?" Cooley Law Rev., Vol. VI, 129, 142 (1989).

The immediate issue in this appeal concerns the reasonableness of Appellant's expulsion under the District Board's attendance policy. We must reverse the expulsion on the grounds that the Waterloo attendance policy is unreasonable and contrary to established State Board precedent. As stated earlier, the SchoolBoard has the legal authority to adopt policies requiring atten-dance for a specified number of days as well as defining by that policy which absences shall be excused and which shall be unexcused. See, Iowa Code section 299.1 (1995). It is then presumed that the policy adopted is reasonable "and the burden of proving the policy unreasonable rests upon those challenging it." In re Barbara Hay, 4 D.P.I App. Dec. 67, 71 (1985)(citing, Bd. of Directors v. Green, 259 Iowa 1260, 147 N.W.2d 854 (1967).

That the decision of the Board of Directors of the Waterloo Community School District made on November 19, 1995, to expel Tami Schmidt for the remainder of the first semester was reversed. There was no remedy for Tami Schmidt's loss of credit for the first semester. However, the District Board was advised that its attendance policy was unreasonable because it expelled students from school on a second truancy and after an eighth absence for the remainder of the semester. The District Board should revise its policy within the parameters of the legal principles and educational considerations outlined herein.