District’s shift in attendance policy causes more difficulty and confusion


Holden Kilbane

Students have been recently confused and frustrated over PPS’s updated attendance policy, which is not consistent between classes and teachers.

When school shut down in late March due to COVID-19, school districts around the country– including Portland Public Schools (PPS)– shifted to online learning. When the 2020-2021 school year started, students had no idea how attendance would be taken.

In normal circumstances, students would be allowed up to eight unexcused one-half day absences (when you are absent for 25-50% of the day) in any four-week period before this “irregular attendance” is investigated, according to the PPS attendance handbook. With online school, there aren’t any punishments for “irregular attendance.” Teachers and administrators want to be more lenient with students, so this rule is not being enforced as strictly.

“The administration and the teachers gave students much more leeway and more support because of the initial confusion with distance learning,” said Jennifer Herbst, one of Lincoln’s VP secretaries.

Despite this, attendance has still been unclear for students because of the breakdown– synchronous and asynchronous– of each school day.

“Overall, attendance has been super confusing for me,” said sophomore Katie King. “Most of that is based on our schedule. We went from only needing attendance for synchronous to also needing attendance for asynchronous.”

According to students, how class attendance is taken also depends on your teacher. There are many different types of ways teachers are taking attendance.

“It varies from teacher to teacher,” King said. “For some of my classes, we meet during asynchronous time, and others we just take virtual attendance. For some, we don’t do anything.”

Junior Sunlan Lu has had a similar experience.

“One thing that was pretty confusing for me was the different expectations each of my teachers had for asynchronous attendance, since some asked us to go to class while others just let us turn in work instead,” she said.

There have also been times where students are marked absent in classes even when they have shown up or completed their required work.

“There were several instances where I was marked absent even when I had talked to teachers during the class period,” said Lu.

Lincoln Vice Principal Chris Brida sent out an email to students Tuesday, Jan 12, where he clarified that Lincoln’s administrative team had “nothing to do with the decisions made around the new attendance policy,” which was given to them by PPS.

“We have been tirelessly advocating for you all to the district since the policy was enacted and will continue to do so,” he wrote.

All of the new asynchronous attendance is causing some students to give up and stop worrying about what happens to their attendance.

Junior Kaylan Zhang said she has not checked which classes she’s been marked absent in since October.

“When we were in class, both my parents and I would be worried if I had an unexcused absence,” she said. “Now during online school, I’m not fazed by my attendance anymore.” 

The current attendance system does not seem to be working effectively for students. The most effective solution, some suggest, is a universal, consistent attendance system so students are less confused on how, and when, attendance is taken.

“At the beginning of the year, I remember teachers telling us we would have until 9 a.m. the next morning to turn in work [to get marked present]. However, in many of my classes this isn’t the case,” Lu said. “Some teachers require work to be turned in before midnight, others even earlier. A clear set of guidelines for both teachers and students [would] be helpful.”