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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Walt Disney Company artist Dave Avanzino talks to Concordia High School 3D art students.

Saturday, August 12, 2017 1:00 am

Concordia tardy change at issue

New policy adds fines for being late for 1st class

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

It may be hard to get teenagers out of bed in the morning, but Concordia Lutheran High School officials think they've found an incentive.

Be late to the start of morning classes more than five times in a semester and pay a $5 fine – plus sit through after-school detention.

Be late in the morning eight or nine times in the same semester – and spend $30 and three hours in a teacher-supervised Saturday School where students are expected to do homework.

“We want students here at the start of the school day,” Principal Patrick Frerking said Friday. “We want them in class and ready to roll at 8 a.m.”

School officials said they expect the policy will rarely come into play and added they were a bit taken aback by the scope of reactions to the change announced this week.

The changes come amid other changes in the way the school day will be structured at the 760-student private secondary school on Fort Wayne's north side.

Parents and alumni by the dozens have taken to Facebook and other online means to comment on or share the change since a back-to-school orientation open house Thursday night. Frerking said “only a couple” of parents approached him with questions at those events.

Phil Brackmann, Concordia's dean of student success, said the tardiness policy change was prompted in part by a switch to four classes Monday through Thursday. Friday will continue with an eight-period school day. 

That means classes are longer, and if a student misses a morning, he or she misses more work in a single subject than before, he said.

In addition, the school had no middle ground for students between detention and suspension from school, he said, an option officials wanted to employ less frequently and won't kick in until the 10th morning tardy in a semester.

The new policy “provides another level” of consequence, Brackmann said, adding that it's up to parents to decide how to deal with how the fines get paid.

Online, some parents expressed support for the idea and for making students pay as a way to make them more responsible for their actions. Others said they were surprised by the change or that the policy penalized parents for the actions of their children and some lower-income parents might find paying $30 a hardship.

Still others said tardy students would get more of a lesson if they did community service work or helped out at the school.

Some suggested it was a money grab. Frerking and Brackmann disputed that, saying the money would go to pay teachers who volunteered for Saturday School duty at $50 a session. The rest would be for the school's community service projects.

Frerking said officials researched the issue and found other schools, public and private, have implemented the practice, which he called “pretty common.” 

However, Fort Wayne Community Schools does not use monetary penalties for tardiness, Joyce McCartney, an FWCS spokeswoman, said Friday.

Instead, 10 tardy occasions or early departures of more than an hour but less than half a day count as one unexcused absence, she said. Unexcused absences are taken into consideration in determining if a student needs intervention through the YMCA's Status Offender Alternative Program.

“All of our policies are aimed at teaching kids life-long skills and being punctual, on time, is one of those skills we teach,” Superintendent Wendy Robinson said in an emailed statement.

“In our district, we try to support the kids by finding out the reason for their being tardy and helping them fix that issue. In all our policies and procedures we haven't found that money has been a motivator to change any kind of behavior.”

Concordia officials said if the policy had been in place during the last school year, probably fewer than 20 students would have been affected per semester.

They said tardiness other than start-of-school tardiness would not count toward the fines and the first five incidents of morning tardiness carry no detention time or fine.

At 8 a.m., school doors typically are locked until the school's 3:10 p.m. dismissal time as a security precaution, officials said.

However, school starts on Mondays at 9 a.m. to allow for faculty meetings, they said. 

With the school not having bus service, more than half of students are driven to school by their parents or other adults and about one third drive themselves, Frerking said.

Some from New Haven arrive via a shuttle and others may walk all or part of the way to school, he said. 

rsalter@jg.net