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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Defense Department schools have implemented a comprehensive system-wide attendance policy in line with most public schools across the U.S. school officials announced Thursday.

The new policy, which takes effect immediately, mandates that students be in class for 180 instructional days. Absences can be excused for medical reasons, deaths in the family and unique family circumstances, the policy states.

A monitoring plan will be instituted for students with pre-approved excused absences that are deemed excessive by school officials and interventions performed to ensure students remain caught up with their work, Department of Defense Education Activity officials said.

Attendance in Department of Defense schools has always been dealt with on a local level from school to school, but now there will be uniform guidelines for everyone to follow, acting Principal Deputy Director for Department of Defense Education Activity, Dr. Nancy Bresell, said in an email.

“Our new system-wide policy will help military communities focus on the importance of school attendance and provide the support and interventions when needed to ensure that every child attends school and has the opportunity to grow and learn in our classrooms,” Bresell said.

School officials began crafting the policy, which mirrors public school policy, in the spring, Bresell said. Following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, thousands of DODEA students in Japan missed days and weeks of school, even when the schools remained opened.

“School attendance issues have been identified as a serious issue for children throughout the U.S., and military children are no exception,” she said.

Bresell said there are generally 181-183 school days planned each year, so the new policy allows for almost no unexcused absences. However, the unique circumstances of military children would be taken into account when determining if an absence should be excused or not. Missing a day of school if a parent is deploying could fall under a unique family circumstance, according to an outline of the policy online.

“The policy also aligns with the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children standard that school systems respect the unique needs of military families when considering requests for excused absences,” Bresell said.

School officials in Sasebo agreed the children of servicemembers are unique in their obligations to family, but they welcomed the policy.

“We’re just going to work with the families,” said Joy Jaramillo, principal at Jack N. Darby Elementary. “It’s something we have to work out with them but it’s needed.”

E.J. King High School principal Dr. Gail Awakuni said that her administration had already been operating under a plan similar to the new policy, and it would mean little more than finally having it in writing.

“That’s been our mission so it’s not going to change our operations in any way,” she said.

Bresell said DODEA officials are in the process of informing parents and administrators of the new policy and because it is new, they will elicit feedback in May. DODEA could then adjust the policy if need be, she said.

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