DoD establishes school attendance policy

By Elaine Sanchez: American Forces Press Servic

WASHINGTON — A new Defense Department school policy underscores the importance of student attendance, while also considering military families’ unique needs, the acting director of the Department of Defense Education Activity said.

The policy, which went into effect Sept. 1, requires students attending DoD schools to be in attendance for 180 instructional days per academic year, barring illness and emergency situations. Most schools typically have 181-183 days scheduled per school year.

The policy also takes into account military parents’ requests for excused absences related to a military lifestyle, including those related to deployments and moves.

“We want to tighten up on discretionary leaves and absences,” Marilee Fitzgerald told American Forces Press Service. “We understand children will leave early when moving, and understand that a parent will be deployed and children will want to spend time with parents pre-or post-deployment.

“But, by and large, kids need to be in school,” she said.

Key components of the policy include:

• Students who are absent will be expected to complete an educational plan consistent with regularly planned school work;

• Increased communication with parents about the effect of absences on student performance;

• Referral of students with five days of absences to a student support team, and referral of students with seven days of absences to the local command for intervention and support; and

• Daily record-keeping, review and analysis of attendance.

The policy emphasizes the importance of attendance for students of all ages, from kindergarten on up, Fitzgerald said.

Children aren’t just playing in kindergarten, she noted, they’re learning. In fact, missing just 5 percent of kindergarten — about nine days — can be an indicator that a child will fall behind by the fifth grade, according to the education activity’s website.

This points to the important link between classroom attendance and academic success, Fitzgerald said. “Establishing good attendance habits in school makes you a more productive citizen,” she said. “You are informed and disciplined — characteristics and traits you need for lifelong success.”

While mandatory school attendance always has been addressed in the education activity’s local, district and area policies, a single, comprehensive policy was needed to bring all DoD schools on the same page, education activity officials explained.

The policy also mirrors attendance standards in stateside school districts, officials said, which can help ease transitions from DoD to public schools.

While school officials will work to enforce the policy, Fitzgerald noted, they’ll also rely on parents to ensure the policy’s success. For example, when moving, parents should enroll their children into the new school as early as possible to minimize absences.

Officials work hard to ensure students attending DoD schools have state-of-the-art equipment at their fingertips, Fitzgerald said, but “all of our resources — whether it’s curriculum-related, ensuring the best teachers are in front of our kids, or making sure the technology is there — is for naught if children aren’t coming to school.”

For more information on the attendance policy, including a list of excused absences, people can visit the back-to-school section of the education activity’s website at