Students Denied Missing Class to Participate in NAIMUN

Cassius Clay ’09 and Alex McHale ’09 will not be among the 35 students who will leave campus this weekend to attend a national Model United Nations conference in Washington, D.C. Students who miss classes for extracurricular club events are granted five days of excused absences for the school year, according to Blue Book policy. Clay and McHale qualified for the World Individual Debate and Public Speaking Championships, as well as a national Model United Nations conference, the North American Invitational Model United Nations (NAIMUN) conference, taking place this weekend. Both students were given the option to choose between attending the Model UN and debate tournaments, and both chose to compete at Worlds Debate. Clay believes that the two days he would spend competing at NAIMUN would be “just as valuable” as the two days he would spend in classes. He continued, “I’m not a student who cuts a lot. I enjoy going to classes. I just think there are some opportunities that I’d like to have, and it’s a shame that it seems like a lot of these [events] overlap so poorly with the scheduling of classes.” McHale has missed three days of school so far—two for an international debate tournament in Canada and one for a college interview. He received special permission to attend Worlds, despite the fact that his excused absences will exceed the five-day allowance. “I think that as long as kids demonstrate that they can handle the fact that they’re missing all this school, [attending extracurricular events] shouldn’t be that big of a deal,” said McHale. John Rogers, Dean of Studies, said that Andover would not be able to run the “best classes,” “best teams” and “best orchestra…if we let kids miss a lot of school for other interests.” “So, we insist that you make the Academy your top priority if you come here,” said Rogers. He added, “I think [clubs] are [a big part of Andover], but they are completely optional. There is no requirement that you participate in Model UN. There is a requirement that you take English.” Worlds Debate will take place at the Reading Blue Coat School in Reading, England, from March 27, 2009 to April 3, 2009. Clay and McHale will miss five days of school to attend the tournament. NAIMUN, taking place in Washington, D.C., began on Thursday and will end on Sunday. Andover’s delegates will miss two days of classes for the conference. Clay said, “Obviously my preference would be to go to both [tournaments], but I understand [the school’s] reasoning, and I know that it’s hard to adopt a blanket policy when each situation is different.” McHale said, “I understand that they have to be consistent for everyone, and so far as the rule is put in place, that’s fine. But I think that the school year did expand, and my understanding is that this five-days-off policy hasn’t changed, so maybe they could think about adjusting that a little bit.” The Blue Book states that students can receive excused absences for personal time, family “events and emergencies,” college visiting, illness or other reasons, which the student’s Cluster Dean or Elizabeth Korn, Associate Dean of Studies, must approve. Requests for excused absences for NAIMUN and Worlds Debate fall into the last miscellaneous category. Rogers said that Andover must have a type of “priority system” to ensure that students attend PA for the “quality of the formal program that we have, the academic program.” “There needed to be some kind of upper limit to how much we would allow for students to miss for exceptional opportunities, and five days over the course of a year seemed like a reasonable amount,” said Rogers. “We just felt that more [five days of excused absences] was putting too little emphasis on a student’s work here—that a student needed to be committed in order to get the most out of their education and in order to contribute the most to the Academy,” he continued. Rogers added that a student must be in good academic standing in order to take any time off from school. “I think that if we didn’t have limits, there would be many, many more of these kinds of things, and it would really have an impact on what we could do in the classroom and in our own programs here, because our students are really talented and would do many things outside of school,” said Rogers. Clay said, “Ms. Korn made it clear to me that it’s not that they’re questioning whether or not I can do the [catch-up] work, but just that it would set a precedent that students might feel entitled to miss school when they couldn’t.” Rogers said that Phillips Academy sports teams are school-sanctioned commitments, but campus clubs are not. He said that the same five-day limitation for excused absences applies to non-PA club sports. For local club sports teams, the school does not grant permission for students to miss school. However, if the club sports team participates in a national-level tournament with college recruiters, the schools applies the five-day rule, said Rogers. “Normally just to go play on a regular [club] team somewhere, you wouldn’t be able to miss any school. But if your team is part of a tournament that is at a very high level, and it’s a chance for you to, say, get looked at by some college coaches, [and] it’s a national level tournament, then we apply the same rule that you can’t miss more than a total of five days over the course of a year for that kind of activity,” said Rogers.