Martha’s Vineyard school officials address spike in student tardiness

In a letter sent to parents, high school officials cited an “inordinate amount of students coming late to school.”

School leaders are addressing a spike in student tardiness by implementing a new policy. — File photo by Michael Cummo

Following a spike in student tardiness, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MRVHS) officials last month implemented a new, stricter policy for the remainder of the 2016 school year. Students who arrive late to school must now report to the office of assistant principal Elliott Bennett.

The change has resulted in significantly fewer incidences of tardiness, according to Ms. Bennett, who sent a letter to parents explaining the new policy.

“Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School believes that timeliness to school and class is important to a student’s ongoing success with their education,” Ms. Bennett said in a letter dated Jan. 23. “Unfortunately, this year has had an inordinate amount of students coming late to school.”

Speaking about the problem to The Times Friday, Ms. Bennett said that students arrive at the school in one of three ways: by bus, with a parent, or in their own vehicle. “The buses are always on time, and the parents have definitely gotten better,” she said. “We’re still working with the students who are driving themselves, but it has improved tremendously.”

She said the two main reasons for the increase in tardiness this year is that students believe they won’t get in trouble, or they don’t think that homeroom is significant.

The former tardiness policy provided an escalating series of consequences after five incidents of tardiness. Under the revised policy, students late to school must meet with a school administrator to explain why they were late. The administrator determines whether the tardiness will be excused, or if a detention or lesser penalty is warranted.

Ninth graders meet with the ninth-grade assistant principal, Barbara-Jean Chauvin; tenth graders meet with school intervention coordinator Sean Schofield; and eleventh and twelfth graders meet with Ms. Bennett.

Asked if she’s had to give any detentions, Ms. Bennett said, “Oh yeah.”

She said the numbers do fluctuate. For example, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 15 students were late to school. “What had happened was because of the weather, the kids hadn’t anticipated that they would have to wait, warm up their cars, and get the defrost going,” Ms. Bennett said. Last Friday, however, there were only two tardy students.

On days when the number is high, as they were on Thursday, it takes time for all the junior and senior students to meet with Ms. Bennett, which can make some students late to class.

“It’s contrarian because you think, Well, they shouldn’t be late to their class; this is ridiculous that they’re being late to their class,” she said. “But what it does is it makes them realize that they do have a priority, they do want to be in class on time, and they don’t want to be sitting, waiting to have to explain themselves to me.”

Just the act of walking into the assistant principal’s office is enough to deter many students from showing up late.

“They don’t want to be the kid that has to walk into the assistant principal’s office,” Ms. Bennett said. “Actually having to go face-to-face with somebody and explain why you were tardy, and why you continue to be tardy, the student has a little bit more responsibility over their actions.”

Positive intervention

According to the student handbook, a student who enters the high school after 7:35 am, the start of the regular school day, is considered tardy to school. 
Reasons a tardy student may be excused include funerals, verified appointments, court, special service programs, weather emergencies, off-Island travel, college interviews, and documented medical reasons.

Previously, students only had to check in with the attendance secretary at the front office and proceed to class. The tardiness was marked on their record, with no immediate consequence. Students received a warning for up to five incidents of tardiness, an afterschool detention for tardinesses six through 10, and a meeting with the student support team for 11 or more tardinesses.

The policy also stipulates that students who are late to school for unexcused reasons are ineligible for all sports and intramural participation, musical performances and events, drama productions, and field trips for that entire day, unless otherwise determined by the athletic director or assistant principal.

At the start of the 2015–16 school year, school officials implemented a new policy procedure called “positive behavior interventions,” which emphasizes evaluating student misbehavior on an individual basis. Rather than just assigning a detention right away, for example, the student’s individual situation is assessed, sometimes resulting in lesser consequences, such as meeting with the teacher whose class he or she was late to.

“The students took that as an, Oh, well this is going to happen every time,” Ms. Bennett said. “So we saw an increase in the behavior instead of a decrease. The positive behavior intervention works great for some of the students, but for others, they’re teenagers; they push.”

She said school officials began noticing a pattern earlier in the school year, and by January, it started to get “out of hand.”

Additionally, Ms. Bennett said, many students were showing up late and skipping homeroom, a time when students meet first thing in the morning to hear school announcements, talk with peers, receive information and surveys from school officials, and prepare for the day.

And there was another noticeable pattern. “One of the things that we were seeing was that students were walking in late to school with Mocha Mott’s cups,” she said. “That has stopped.”

For the rest of this year, Ms. Bennett said, the school intends to maintain the new procedure. It will be up to the new MVRHS principal, Sara Dingledy, to dictate the policy moving forward.

“I do think this will be successful for the rest of this year,” Ms. Bennett said. “I think it’s been successful so far. After just the first week of doing this, we saw a huge drop in tardies.”