In Princeton, NJ High School Attendance May Be Optional

According to the investigation report released b the New Jersey Department of Education, Princeton High School has for years been violating rules by allowing chronically absent students to graduate and for failing to keep track of whether their absences were excused or not.

In some cases, teachers who were familiar with students’ family situations didn’t even bother asking them to provide documentation for their absences, simply giving them credit for the class time missed and allowing them to graduate.

Students in New Jersey high schools can not graduate with 9 unexcused absences in a semester or 18 for the entire academic year.

The report said that when investigators asked principal Gary Snyder why students’ excessive absences were overlooked despite the lack of appeals, he initially tried to dodge the question.

“When pressed regarding the appearance of selective application of the policy, principal Snyder cited the students’ known medical/life conditions and indicated that PHS may not send loss of credit/right to appeal notices to the parents of students whose ‘situation’ were ‘known’ to staff,” the summary said.

OFAC said that although they received full transcripts, they were frequently altered to give class credits to students who had been previously marked absent. The information about the records tempering was released by the Princeton school board earlier this week.

The lack of documentation made it impossible for investigators to determine the full scope of the problem and to make a determination on whether every student marked excessively absent actually lacked the excuse to be so. To correct the problem going forward, the report recommends a formalized system both for attendance tracking and appeals. Of the 1,350 student records reviewed by investigators, questions were raised about 130.

A Department of Education spokesman said yesterday that none of the former students will lose their status as graduates.
The school board released a statement agreeing with the OFAC recommendation but criticizing the suggestion that transcripts had been altered improperly.

The district “takes great exception to the omissions, misleading language and incomplete account in the report,” the statement said. “Most of all, it must be clearly and firmly stated that never once were any student records altered in any way.”

The investigation was triggered by an anonymous complaint lodged last year that claimed that school officials including Snyder were failing to enter bad information about students into the electronic record-keeping database. Although investigators uncovered a number of questionable practices, they were not able to come to a final conclusion regarding the initial violation.