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by Abigail Van Buren

Inquisitive School Secretary Is Playing by the Rules

DEAR ABBY: I am a high school secretary, and I'm writing about your reply to "Sick of It in Iowa" (Jan. 28), who is upset at the school secretaries for questioning or commenting on her frequent absences. You were right that her medical history is of no concern to the secretary, but her attendance record is very much the business of the secretary.

The principal makes the decision regarding when a student is required to bring a doctor's note with every absence. This procedure is called Persistent Absence, and it means someone has been out of school at least 25 days that school year, or has developed a pattern with his or her absences.

School rules are governed by the state. You would be surprised how many parents receive citations and must go to court because of their student's poor attendance. When a student has a chronic illness, backed by a physician's statement, the school will bend over backward to work with them, ensuring they receive the best possible education available.

It's not that I don't empathize with that young lady, but part of an education is teaching students that in the real world, they have a responsibility to maintain a good attendance record that will precede them into college, the work force and life itself. -- DIANE S., SPRING CITY, PA.

DEAR DIANE S.: Thank you for straightening me out. It appears from the mail I have received from educators and school administrative staff that my answer left something to be desired. Mea culpa. For the benefit of parents and students who may not be aware, I'll share a few more. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: For your information, many times school secretaries are charged with the unpleasant task of having to contact the truant officer, children's services and others in law enforcement if a child doesn't come to school and can't provide a valid doctor's excuse. The principal and superintendent do these jobs, but it is up to US to track these kids and make sure they attend school as they are supposed to do. -- BOTHERED IN MUNCIE, IND.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a school secretary. We are required by law to ask for a doctor's note when a student has accumulated more than five absences due to illness. When a student arrives at school more than 30 minutes late, or leaves more than 30 minutes early (three or more times), that student is considered truant.

With today's economic mess we need to know why a student is not in school. In California, schools lose more than $30 a day when a student is not in his or her seat, and that money adds up. So, yes, Abby, it IS "our business" to know a student's medical history. -- VICTORIA IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR ABBY: "Sick of It" and her mother should speak to the school social worker. She may qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including an individualized education plan that could cover services such as in-home schooling, extended time on assignments and the ability to leave school with little or no warning. This is called a 504 Plan. -- KATHRYN IN NEWARK, DEL.

DEAR ABBY: The girl with frequent illness said she plays the clarinet. Has anyone suggested to her that her clarinet could be the culprit? As a band director for more than 30 years, one of the first lessons I go over with beginning or continuing students is to throw away reeds that were used prior to any illness and clean the mouthpiece thoroughly. -- SARAH JANE IN SEVERNA PARK, MD.

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