High school students required to do physical labor to make up missed classes

Power washing the school, riding bus routes and helping with graduation are some of the options Wayne County High School students are completing.
Power washing the school and helping with graduation are some of the options high school students were given to make up for missed classes. (Source: WSMV)
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:29 PM CDT
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WAYNESBORO, Tenn. (WSMV) - School is out for the summer, but some Wayne County High School students are still trying to make up for missed classes during the spring semester as part of a controversial attendance policy.

The rule requires students with more than eight absences per semester, no matter the reason, to make up instructional time hour-for-hour to get class credit.

Many students are having to spend the hours doing physical labor, including Ashley Carlton’s freshman son who was notified of his attendance issue with three weeks left in the year.

“It’s not just because he didn’t feel like going to school that day or he was too tired and didn’t get up,” Carlton said. “He had legitimate doctor’s notes, doctor’s appointments.”

Principal Ryan Franks first introduced the rule in 2018 to cut down on chronic absenteeism. He said some students missing more than 25 days per year led the school to have one of the worst attendance rates in the state.

Students can participate in after-school tutoring to make up the hours during the school year, Franks said. If they don’t complete that work, the school will provide them with other tasks to complete around the school to make up the time.

“We have other methods at the end of the year,” Franks said. “Sometimes students will stay and do work. They will help us out around the school, help our custodians out doing things after school. If they get to the end of the year and they haven’t taken advantage of the after-school tutoring and different opportunities there, we will produce other work-related things that they can do to make up time.”

Those options have included students working to clean the school over the summer, riding bus routes and helping with the school’s graduation ceremony.

Carlton said her son was notified too late in the semester to participate in the tutoring options and had to power wash the outside of the school instead. He did not wear any protective equipment and came home from school soaking wet.

“They did not give him, or these other kids, educational incentives at that point,” Carlton said. “They literally made them work.”

“There are a lot of students who would rather help our custodians pressure wash than go sit in a classroom for an hour after school,” Franks said. “That is why we offer a variety of methods they can do to make up the time.”

Parents said they were blindsided by these rules because they are not listed in the student handbook attendance policy. They are also upset the school only notified their students of their punishments, and not parents directly.

Franks said he insists on teaching students how to handle their own business, despite school policy clearly requiring parents be part of any attendance issues. He is working to update the student handbook for next school year to include the 5-year-old policy because of parent complaints.

“Students and parents were made aware of it at our registration, at our parent orientation night prior to coming into the high school,” Franks said. “But we are making that correction now. That one is on me.”

Franks said he is proud of the school’s improved attendance rates since the policy was introduced. Wayne County High School has around 10 students who are still working to make up many missed hours.

Carlton said she wants the school to go further to prevent students with medical excuses from being punished for missing class.

“He made a student run laps in the gym with weights on their shoulders,” Carlton said. “To me, there is nothing at all academic about that situation.”