Marlborough schools formalize attendance accountability waiver request

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MARLBOROUGH – School officials sent a letter to the state last month asking that it not use attendance in its 2021-2022 accountability assessments of Marlborough schools.

There had been no response or acknowledgement of that letter as of March 8, Superintendent Michael Bergeron told the School Committee.

Superintendent calls for waiver

Bergeron previously spoke at a School Committee meeting back on Jan. 11, recommending that the School Committee vote to formally request this waiver.

He cited low attendance rates during COVID-19 case surges, which became particularly pronounced in early January as the omicron variant of the coronavirus flooded the region.

“Attendance as an accountability measure for schools in this environment unreasonably punishes all districts for trying to remain open for students during a pandemic,” Bergeron said during that Jan. 11 School Committee meeting.

Attendance rates had drifted as low as 75% around the time that Bergeron gave his presentation.

School Committee sends request

The School Committee sent the waiver request that Bergeron recommended, laying out a two-page memo that argued their case.

The memo was then included in the committee’s March 8 meeting packet.

The committee acknowledged a number of other accountability metrics that the district is measured against, including graduation rates, MCAS scores and per pupil expenditure.

These metrics are used to evaluate individual districts.

Of concern, the Marlborough School Committee said, was the continued inclusion of attendance as one of those metrics.

This, they said, could have “the potential for appropriate health practices to harm the district’s accountability status.”

“While we encourage our students and staff to be at school, we also encourage our students and staff to not cause harm to our community through further infections and spreading of COVID while symptomatic,” the committee wrote.

Simply, they argued, possibly punishing districts for low attendance rates in this portion of the year would contradict public health guidance that advised individuals to be cautious against possibly exposing others to the coronavirus.

“We need to encourage an appropriate approach to health and wellness, and not worry about causing damage to one’s accountability rating due to attendance issues due to the pandemic,” the letter concluded.

The full letter can be viewed online by visiting https://www.mps-edu.org/cms/lib/MA02212715/Centricity/Domain/40/March%208%202022%20School%20Committee%20Agenda%20%20Packet.pdf.

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