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Excused or Unexcused: That is the Question

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Barbara Anne Greene

A few weeks ago, Cynthia Johnson called to “plant a seed” in my thoughts. Her granddaughter was making plans for the upcoming livestock judging and livestock showing season and if she misses more than 12 days of school, she will be in violation of the school policy. 

Chloie doesn’t play sports. Instead, she shows livestock and competes in livestock and meats judging in Wyoming and surrounding states. In the eyes of this school district, these are unexcused absences. Chloie’s mom, Emily, pointed out students playing sports and other activities through the school like FFA, Debate and Future Business Leaders of America are allowed to miss school for said activities. Why should students choosing 4-H and agriculture as their “sport” be penalized? 

Other states have created legislation to recognize 4-H activities as an excused absence.

I reached out to Gov. Mark Gordon and State Sen. R.J. Kost and both said education is “more than having a student’s butt in a seat.”

Especially given how important ag is in Wyoming. They both also said they would like to see other educational opportunities – not just 4-H – considered as excused absences. Kost gave the example of summer programs for high schoolers. His sons participated in these programs and there were times they had meetings during the school year.

The governor suggested I visit with State Sen. Affie Ellis as she had similar concerns regarding indigenous students’ cultural traditions. I reached out to Ellis and State Rep. Lloyd Larsen, who provided the following.  

“21-3-110 Duties of boards of trustees. The board of trustees in each school district shall: (xxxix) Define “habitual truancy” and “unexcused absence” for all students who are attending public schools and establish rules regarding student attendance. For purposes of this paragraph, an absence preapproved by the district or an absence due to an illness, injury or the health care needs of the student or a death or serious illness in the student’s family shall not constitute an unexcused absence. Students participating in the annual state fair held under W.S. 11-10-101 as an exhibitor shall be considered as participating in a district co-curricular activity program and the student’s absence shall be defined by the board as an excused absence. Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit a school district from requesting verification of the reasons for an absence.”

While this sounds great, there are still variables not addressed. First, many school districts I spoke to were not aware absences could be pre-approved by the board. So, this means some students are getting the benefit of this statute and some aren’t. I spoke to Big Horn County School District Number Four Superintendent Dave Kerby and Big Horn County 4-H Education Coordinator Gretchen Gasvoda. Neither was aware of the statute but indicated the school district works to make sure these opportunities are not missed by these students.

Second, per Kost: The statute should include it is required the students’ work is caught up and/or being met by online or instruction from instructors.

I sent copies of the bill from Oklahoma which specifically lists 4-H activities should be excused. Larsen said he feels the current statute is enough and if a school district isn’t following it, the board can be voted out.

Johnson countered the board could be voted out but it might take years and, in the meantime, students would lose the opportunity.

Originally this column was going to push for a bill. This is truly an issue for many of our students. I’m not advocating a free for all but true educational opportunities outside of school are important as well.

I agree with Johnson, this needs to be fair across the school districts. Does there need to be a bill? I don’t know. Will this column help to educate parents, students and school boards across the state? I don’t know.

What I do know is any true opportunity helping our students advance their education should be considered as an excused absence.

Thank you to everyone for their insight.

Barbara Anne Greene is a reporter for Big Horn County newspapers. She can be reached at

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