The Current

Nova Scotia gets tough on students with strict school absenteeism policy

A quarter of Nova Scotia public school students miss at least 16 school days a year. Now the province has new stricter rules to address the absenteeism.
On Oct. 1, Nova Scotia high school students who miss more than 20 per cent of their classes - 18 classes per term - can be failed, no matter how good their grades may be. (Hadrian/Shutterstock)

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School absenteeism has become a real problem in Nova Scotia, prompting a tougher policy brought in by the ruling Liberal government.

A quarter of Nova Scotia public school students miss at least 16 days of school a year. 

Starting in October, high school students who miss more than 20 per cent of their classes, can be failed — no matter how good their grades may be. 

According to Dartmouth high school teacher Michael Cosgrove, there will always be kids who skip class if there are no consequences.

Cosgrove was one of the advisers on the new policy and tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti the new rules will have "an effect on overall attendance and the climb of the class."

"But I think ultimately the biggest effect on attendance ... are the parents for sure. That's my opinion."

Critics like NDP's Claudia Chender expressed concern that the new policy may unfairly penalize some students, pointing to mental health as one of the reasons for a low-class attendance.

In response to this criticism, Cosrove argues this policy will not "unfairly treat people or marginalize students."

"I think that teachers and educators have always been pretty flexible and pretty understanding," he says, adding students can miss 18 classes per term under the new policy.

"Ultimately, when you miss a certain amount of time for whatever reason, I'm just not sure that it's realistic to say you've got everything you need to pass that course."

Charles Pascal, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says the solution to the problem of student absenteeism comes down to the root of the question: Why are you not coming to school?

"You start with that. You don't start with an attendance policy which in fact I think is actually going to increase absenteeism," he tells Tremonti.

"The moment you say that you can miss up to 18 classes, it's giving permission to other kids to take that extra day or two. So I just think they've got it all wrong."

Pascal believes a large percentage of students not coming to class is a sign to "look in the mirror regarding the nature of what's going on, regarding the schools and the relationship with parents."

He suggests that if parents aren't engaged with the school, more has to be done to welcome them.

"It's not just about what individual teachers need to do about understanding who each of their kids are, not just as learners, but as young people," Pascal says.

"But it's important for the school to have a greater policy and approach to doing outreach so that their relationships with the parents and guardians is a reciprocal one."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Samira Mohyeddin and Halifax network producer Mary-Catherine McIntosh.