Students in Howard County schools will be allowed to miss five days a year for college visits or family trips without being penalized.

The school board adopted a revised attendance policy Thursday, except for one section that will be rewritten and approved in coming weeks.

The revised policy accommodates objections to an earlier version that would have forced students to take a zero for work missed duringcollege visits and other trips taken on school days.

Parents and students protested last month that the draft policy statement, "It isexpected that college visits will take place on weekends," was impractical.

Others said some parents would skirt the ban on allowing students to make up the missed work by writing "illness" notes to get the absences excused for family vacations, science seminars and othertrips.

But Thursday, board members returned one section of the policy to the 15-member committee of parents, students, principals and teachers responsible for drafting it.

The change proposed by the board would offer truant students -- those with more than six illegal absences in one marking period -- a chance to appeal the failing grades, which are automatic, for the classes they missed.

The consensus among board members has swung 180 degrees in the two months since they began considering what will be the school system's first countywide attendance policy.

The board started with the philosophy that students who do not come to school regularly should suffer the consequences of lowered or failing grades. At the time, board members were sharply critical of the Maryland State Board of Education requirement that suspended students must be allowed to make up the work they missfor credit.

By last week's vote, the consensus was that students could learn a requirement of the world of work -- they will be expected to be present on the job -- and could gain an understanding of theimportance of class discussions by making up the work.

Board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig proposed allowing students to make up missed work and to receive credit if they turn the work in on time.

She also suggested offering truant students a chance to appealfailing grades in their classes, if they make up the work and stop skipping school. The board consensus favored the idea, but left it to the committee to determine how it would work.

"That seems to me a positive way to say, 'Get your tail back in here,' " she said. "A truant student falls further and further behind. If we say to them, 'You fail this course,' why should they come back?"

Board member Karen B. Campbell said she has come to believe that children should be offered repeated chances to receive an education, rather than penalized for not staying in school.

Campbell said that when one of her children dropped out of school, "That gave me insight into the fact that you have to keep giving these kids opportunities."

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