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Truancy: The Extent of the Problem

School attendance is a key component of successful learning. In both federal law and state law, students must attend school throughout the school year. Truancy, or unexcused absences, disrupts the learning environment. It is disruptive not only to the absent student but also to others. Student conduct within the school code of conduct, such as regular attendance, is vital to the school program. It is also crucial to grade-level advancement.

School attendance is compulsory for all children of certain years of age, as per state law. But certain exemptions can be applied in certain circumstances. This could include health issues or particular educational needs. All public schools are free schools, meaning no child can be denied education due to an inability to pay.

Chronic absences from school affect more than a student's grades. Absenteeism and truancy often signal deeper issues affecting the student. It can also be reflective of the school and community as a whole. Some schools estimate that up to 75% of chronic truants eventually drop out. As a result, many people have studied truancy extensively. This helps determine the factors that contribute to truancy. They also aim to understand the risk factors often associated with truancy and how to prevent students from skipping school. This article provides a brief overview of student absences that lead to truancy.

Factors Contributing to Truancy

There is no single reason that students become truants. Many factors can lead to a student's decision to skip school. These factors can come from the school and its facilities. Or it can be because of the student's home life or other personal issues.

The state of America's schools can play a role in students' willingness and motivation to attend. When students feel unsafe, unchallenged, or unimportant at school, they may decide not to attend. School-related factors contributing to truancy include:

  • Difficulty with schoolwork
  • Poor supervision and maintenance of school facilities
  • Safety issues, such as teachers and school officials failing to address behavioral problems
  • Conflicts with school personnel or other students
  • Bullying or hazing on school grounds, the school bus, or online (cyberbullying)
  • Disengagement during after-school activities or extracurricular activities
  • Harsh punishments for minor infractions (for example, automatic suspensions or an automatic "F" for being late; or dress code or electronic communication policies)
  • Lack of notification to parents when a child is not attending or performing as expected
  • Lack of engagement in school-sponsored activities

Similarly, many issues at home can make a child less likely to attend school. These factors include:

  • Abuse or neglect by the child's parents or guardian
  • Substance abuse by family members
  • Parental lack of interest in education
  • Financial issues, such as single parents working several jobs to make ends meet

Finally, a student may be struggling with personal issues that prompt him or her to avoid school, such as:

  • Low self-esteem, often due to poor grades
  • Undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues or learning disabilities
  • Substance abuse issues, like using controlled substances inappropriately
  • Lack of goals

Understanding these factors can help school administrators and school staff. It can help them devise appropriate strategies for addressing truancy.

Risks of Truancy

Truancy can lead to various risks. Tardiness can escalate into full-day absences. Most experts consider truancy as a bellwether. They believe it can show that a child is more likely to engage in other risky behavior.

Truancy often acts as a "gateway" behavior. This is because it can lead to students trying drugs and alcohol. It can also lead to kids engaging in other criminal acts, such as vandalism and theft. Sometimes, this misbehavior ultimately leads to dropping out of school altogether.

Strategies for Addressing Truancy

Many schools and government agencies create strategies for keeping kids in school. But many penalties increase, rather than prevent, truancy. So, some truancy prevention programs instead address the factors that lead to truancy. These programs have been more successful in preventing truancy.

To address truancy, it's crucial to establish a strong partnership between the school and the student's parent or legal guardian. Most truancy prevention programs include:

  • Creating an intervention plan or behavior intervention. This may include alternative education programs or alternative placement
  • Providing special education services or an IEP (Individualized Education Program) to disabled students
  • Increasing engagement by offering to enrich after-school and extracurricular activities
  • Ensuring that the school environment is safe and inclusive (regardless of the student's national origin or sexual orientation)
  • Increasing parental involvement, usually through notification of their child's truancy; joint counseling with the child and their parents and family mediation might be ordered
  • Diverting truancy from the court system through alternative programs, such as counseling and community service
  • Mentoring individually
  • Increasing training for law enforcement officials on how to handle truancy cases better

Respect and appropriate behavior should extend to all school-related activities. They should be followed whether on school premises or off-site. It's crucial to remember that rules aren't just for during the calendar days of the school year. They are for all school-related activities.

Respect for school property is a significant part of student conduct. Every student in a public school, from elementary through secondary school, must respect school property. This includes lockers, furniture, and equipment. But it's not just about school property. Respect for the personal property of others is also crucial. Any student caught stealing or damaging others' personal property should face school discipline.

Schools also enforce strict rules about bringing inappropriate items or paraphernalia to school. These rules help maintain a safe learning environment for all students and staff. Students who break these rules should face disciplinary action.

Legal Ramifications of Truancy

Skipping school can lead to serious legal ramifications. School personnel, such as the school principal or a designated staff member (a designee), will get involved. They must send a written notice to the student's parents. This is usually after a certain period of unexcused absences.

School administrators can refer the case to law enforcement agencies if truancy continues. In severe cases, the school board might involve law enforcement officers directly. The student might be ordered to undergo in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension. Some students can make up work missed during suspensions.

Some students end up in juvenile court due to chronic truancy. Although truancy laws vary by state, every state has some way to enforce truancy statutes. This is often done by punishing chronically absent students. Truants can be put on probation or ordered to perform community service. Judges may also sentence truants to serve in a juvenile detention facility in severe cases.

Additionally, many states seek to sanction a truant's parents or guardians. States may allow judges to fine parents. A judge might also order parents to take parenting education classes. Or they can order families to undergo family counseling.

Student Rights Related to Truancy

Students have rights in every school building, from elementary through high school. School authorities must respect these rights. Schools must follow due process when a student's behavior prompts disciplinary action. Before a school takes disciplinary action, students must receive written notice. They should be informed of what they allegedly did wrong. They should also know what part of the student code of conduct they are alleged to have violated. The table of contents in the student handbook should provide a roadmap. It can help you understand the school's discipline procedures related to truancy.

For example, consider if a student's attendance is irregular over a period of time. Let's say the school district made a referral to law enforcement. Or they imposed another serious disciplinary action on the student. The student has a right to understand why these steps are being taken. This communication can happen through a school employee. For example, a counselor or the school counselor can relay the message.

School enrollment comes with the responsibility to respect student discipline policies. Importantly, student rights don't only apply during school days or within the school building. These rights also extend to school-sponsored events and any school function. It also provides the right to fair treatment, a safe environment, and a voice in the process.

The ultimate goal of these school rules is always the well-being of the student and the entire school community. For more information, visit FindLaw's subsection on Student Rights.

Getting Legal Help With Truancy Issues

Knowing the code of conduct and board policy is crucial for parents or guardians needing assistance with truancy issues. The board of education and law enforcement authorities can provide valuable resources. The goal is to foster a positive learning environment where every student is motivated to attend school, fully engaged, and free to pursue their education.

If you are having truancy issues, a legal professional might be able to help. They can inform you of your state's laws. They can also review your case and your student code of conduct.

Talk to an education attorney today.

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