FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Fort Jackson School District is working to implement a student attendance policy created by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Created last year by the DoDEA, a field activity of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that provides a comprehensive pre-kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum for military children, Fort Jackson schools are beginning to both implement and fine tune the policy.

"Basically, the purpose of an attendance policy is that we believe it makes a difference for students to be in school," said Gael Coyle, school district assistant superintendent. "Students are not successful if they don't have the school work and they don't have the resources to be successful. We want to intervene and give children and families the support that they need."

Among the events that can qualify a student for "excused absences" are personal illnesses, medical, dental, or mental health appointments, serious illness in the student's immediate family, religious holidays and "unique circumstances."

"The principals do have the ability to grant excused absences in unique family circumstances," Coyle said. "For example, if a military member is deployed, and the family needs integration time following the deployment or before the deployment... that's another 'unique circumstance.'"

If the family knows in advance that leave will be taken, schools can provide parents with information to make sure children do not fall behind in class, she said. Advance notice also helps teachers prepare for absent students.

"We do an educational plan to make sure that child has what he or she needs," she said. "Especially if we have many students leaving, it takes a great deal of time to prepare good educational plans."

Coyle distributed copies of the attendance policy to school board members during last week's meeting, asking for input on how to proceed with it. She highlighted a need for recommendations on how to handle students with 10 or more unexcused absences.

Late arrivals are also handled as absences, though most "tardy" arrivals count for a fraction of a single absence. Students who are consistently late to school can eventually rack up a significant number of absences, she said.

"When a child comes in late, it disrupts learning for the rest of the class, not just for the child who comes in late," Coyle said.

"I think it's very, very important that there's a balance struck," said Maj. Kelley Osborne, school board president. "Obviously, you've got to have rules, but at the same time you've got to have some flexibility given all the students we have with military families. I also like that the principals have the authority to make a judgment call on whether it's a valid absence or not."

Here are a few of the highlights of the DoDEA attendance policy:

All students are required to attend school for 180 instructional days per school year.

Academic penalties will not be imposed for excused absences.

Whenever a student needs to be out for more than five days, the teacher will provide a Student Educational Monitoring Plan to lessen the impact of a student missing instruction in class.

The policy establishes a balance between the need for military families to spend time together following deployment, while emphasizing the importance of education. (The schools) have and will continue to be as flexible as possible in accommodating the precious time families have together but flexibilities and accommodations have limitations, especially when they impact student performance and attendance at school.