HAMILTON (Mercer) — An elementary school's attempt to reward perfect attendance for the month with a brief celebration for eligible students was met with enough backlash to squash any future "attenDance" from happening, according to one report.

The incentive was tried out at Yardville Elementary School last Wednesday, as explained in a letter sent home to district families by the schools Superintendent Scott Rocco.

A number of parents voiced criticism for the attenDance on social media, saying they believe it was unfair to kids who had recently been out sick and were therefore unable to attend the event.

"Addressing chronic absenteeism is not about sending our students to school sick. We want our students to be well and excited to come to school. When they are sick, we ask that parents follow normal procedures," Rocco said in a letter posted to the district website.

On Facebook, one mother in the township district called the 'AttenDance' policy "beyond absurd."

Catherine Green Wilson said on her personal page "Is this the same school district that has a day to remember a child from the district that passed away after contracting the flu at school? The same district that recently sent home a letter reminding parents NOT to send their kids to school sick? So now you're going to reward kids for perfect attendance? For something that, realistically, can only be achieved if a child attends school while sick?"

Rocco said in the same letter dated Feb. 6: "These celebrations are not once a year but throughout the year so that if students were absent one month, they have the opportunity to be celebrated in another month."

"As a result of recent feedback, we will discuss the concerns and feedback provided and adapt our plans as needed moving forward."

A different school within the same district, University Heights Elementary, held its own attenDANCE in January for students who had perfect attendance in November and December, using funds from one of the district's "Be There, All Kids Thrive" Princeton Area Community Foundation Grant.

CBS Philly reported that district school officials Friday sent an email to parents saying future attenDANCES were cancelled.

New Jersey public schools must be in session a minimum of 180 days each year, in order to receive state aid.

“Chronic absenteeism” is defined by the state Department of Education as the percentage of a school’s students who are not present for 10 percent or more of the days that they were “in membership” at a school.

So, in general kids would be considered chronically absent for missing 18 or more days that school is in session, without proper instruction and participation during any of those days out.

Under state guidelines, the only five reasons for a fully excused absence are:
- Religious observance
- A college visit (up to 3 days per school year, only for students in grades 11 and 12)
- “Take Our Children to Work Day”
- Participation in observance of Veterans Day or district board of election membership activities
- Closure of a busing district that prevents a student from having transportation to the receiving school.

The same state guidelines note “Schools can determine how 'excused' and 'unexcused' absences are defined for the purposes of expectations and consequences regarding truancy, student conduct, promotion, retention, and the award of course credit."

But a locally "excused" absence for any reason beyond the five listed still would be factored into the school's absenteeism percentage.

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