Letter to the editor

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April 15, 2012

Dear Editor:

As members of the Reading Department, we were disappointed that your last issue (4/12/12) contained no mention of news editor Jon Parton’s meeting with Charis Sawyer, our department chair, regarding the attendance policy  discussed in the 3/22/12 article “Gray Areas: Emergencies and Attendance Policy.”  That said, perhaps through this letter we can provide a “teaching moment.”

That article about JCCC’s new attendance policy contained numerous inaccuracies, mainly because information was left out or not made clear.  First, professors who state the new attendance policy in their syllabi must first send students an “intervention letter” by JCCC email.  An “intervention letter” is not the same as “initiating a withdrawal” as your article implied.

An intervention letter is a warning notice to the student, an alert to tell the student that the professor is concerned that the student will not be able to complete the class successfully. (Successful completion is a grade of “C” or better.)  The student then has to attend class immediately and meet with the professor to see how to get his/her grade back on track.  If the professor still doesn’t see or hear anything from the student for another week, then the professor can initiate withdrawal procedures.  The withdrawal form, which includes the division dean’s signature, actually begins the withdrawal procedure when it is sent on to the registrar’s office.

The article failed to mention that the point of the intervention letter is to save the student from a failing grade. The article implied that there was no safety check for the student.  Intervention letters have saved students from being dropped from the course and from failing grades.  Since the Reading Department was instrumental in the creation of the new policy, we know its intention. It was never intended to be a punitive action. Instead, it tells the student that he/she should return or drop the class. Research shows that class attendance directly correlates with grades;  i. e., higher class attendance results in higher grades. Many beginning college students do not realize how hard it is to dig themselves out from under a bad GPA.  A bad GPA can prevent a student from entering the transfer college or the transfer program of choice. In our experience we are seeing too many students worry more about the impact of dropped classes on their financial aid, not realizing that a bad GPA will also impact financial aid as well as future educational possibilities.  As a general rule, an intervention letter from a reading professor also recommends that a student talk to a counselor about problems that impact attendance.

Another problem in the article was that the teacher named by the student had no legal recourse to respond.  Whereas the article contained 7 paragraphs of complaint by the student, only 9 words about that situation were given to the teacher, “…is legally unable to comment on any particular student.”

Federal privacy laws prevent College personnel from discussing specific student complaints and/or student records with anyone but the student. For that reason, it was imperative that the reporter research the College’s policy by talking to the administration regarding the reasons for and intent behind such attendance policies. In this case, that did not happen despite a willingness on our part to do so. While the reporter did contact the Dean to discuss the policy, an offer to meet with the reporter in the following days was declined. While we understand deadlines, stories should not be rushed and research overlooked just to get the story out. As a result, we had an opinion article placed into the “news” section of the paper.

Another inaccuracy in the article was the implication that many administrators must sign a form in order to take a class for pass/fail. Students can take one class per semester for pass/fail by picking up a form at the Success Center and having it signed by a counselor.  The deadline is April 15th for the spring semester or Nov. 15th for the fall semester. Such information is not shared with the professor of that course or the professor’s administrator. Information about the process for pass/fail grades can be found in the Student Handbook available online.

Finally, as faculty in the Reading Department, we want to emphasize that we are in our field because we care about students and believe that we can enhance student success at JCCC.

Sincerely,

Roz Bethke, Professor, Reading

Pat Jonason, Professor Emeritus, Reading

Ann Williams, Adjunct Professor, Reading

Linda Creason, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Reading

Charis Sawyer, Professor, Department Chair, Reading

Lisa Parra, Associate Professor, Reading

Suzanne R. Franklin, Associate Professor, Reading

Dianna Rottinghaus, Associate Professor, Reading

Leanna L. Graham, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Reading

Linda C. Fargus, Adjunct Associate Professor, Reading

Susan Steel, Adjunct Associate Professor, Reading

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