Connect-Ed keeps parents informed

Jan. 26, 2006, midnight | By Devon Madison | 18 years, 4 months ago

New attendance policy alerts parents of absent students

On Dec. 7, a new countywide program called "Connect-Ed" was instituted at Blair, allowing the administration to alert parents and guardians when their child has been absent from class.

Blair administration sent home a letter to parents regarding a new policy, "MCPS Connect-Ed." According to the letter, the program is "designed to increase home-to-school communication with regards to attendance notifications." In other words, the school will phone parents when their child is marked absent from a class.

In doing so, a machine calls a student's home between 7 to 8 p.m. on the day the student is marked absent from a class. The automated voice messaging system is administrated by Roxanne Fus, the attendance secretary, who personally records a message that is sent to the home of the student.

The primary benefit of this program is the parents' increased knowledge of their child's attendance at school, and the new innovation has already had shown large results. "Parents are calling," Fus said. "They want to know."

"Connect-Ed" can perform other tasks besides alerting parents when their kid has been absent from school. According to Fus, it allows for updated phone records. The machine is capable of recording what phone calls were delivered, which were left on an answering machine and which numbers were invalid. This allows the school to weed out wrong numbers and keep updated phone numbers for each student. This way, if an emergency were to occur, the school will have current numbers for every student, according to Fus.

The program can also alert administrators to errors in students' attendance records. If a teacher has mistakenly marked a student absent, the student will become aware of the error after the automatic phone call.

Under the former policy, students faced with a loss of credit for a class sometimes couldn't remember whether the absences were legitimate or not. With the new program, students can deal with their absences the same day. "If it's the next day, of course you remember you were in class," said Fus.

The program can also send out community messages to students. "If we need to get out an emergency or timely message, we can use [Connect-Ed] for that too," Fus said. If necessary, the messaging system can selectively call students as well. For example, messages can be sent to only upperclassmen, females, or other combinations.

Despite its mostly positive effects, the Connect-Ed still has some glitches that need to be worked out. Because some telephone numbers have been inaccurate, homes without Blair students have been called.

Another problem with the messaging system is that it doesn't say the name of the absent student. This means that if a family has more than one student attending Blair, it is unclear which student was not in class. The machine also does not say whether students were absent for all or part of the day, or from which period they were absent.

Missing fifth period accounts for a large portion of absences at Blair and also causes a lot of students to lose credit or be in danger of losing credit for the course. Fus said that the day before winter break, over 700 absences were recorded for fifth period, making the Connect-ed Call list extremely lengthy that evening.

The program has generated both positive and negative feedback from teachers and students.

Some students feel that the program achieves its goals. "It's good for parents—I think it would be smarter if they had Mrs. Fus call everyone personally because there would be fewer technical errors," said junior Max Lockwood.

Sophomore Cassie Cummins agreed that while the idea of the program was a good one, Connect-Ed has faults that make it easy for kids to get around. "I think the program is necessary, but I think it also has some faults because a lot of kids just erase the messages. [Connect-Ed] should call parents' work numbers because otherwise the program is ineffective."

On the other hand, some students found the program to be a nuisance as well as an invasion of their privacy. "The new program is not fair—just because someone complains doesn't mean everyone should have to pay the consequences," says senior Mayra Ramos. Although the program was implemented in every school in the county, many students still find the new policy to be too harsh on students.

Ramos, among others, thinks the program invades a student's privacy from their parents. "If you have a personal problem that causes you to miss class and you don't want your parents to know about it, they find out anyway," Ramos says.

Senior Cate Rassman also suggested that the policy was a personal invasion of privacy. "If you're 18 and you have a doctors appointment that your parents don't know about, the school shouldn't be the ones who are informing them of these things. If you are of age, it's not their right to know."

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