In 2016, Gov. Wolf signed a new truancy law that has been in effect since the 2017-2018 school year. Children who are of compulsory school age must attend school daily. A child becomes “truant” when the child has three unexcused absences in the current school year. A child becomes “habitually truant” when the child has six or more unexcused absences in the current school year. Once the child hits three unexcused absences, the law requires the school to notify the parent in writing within 10 days of the third unexcused absence. This letter must include the consequences of what happens should the child be habitually truant. Should the child continue to accumulate additional unexcused absences, an attendance improvement conference must be held. The parent will be notified of this meeting and it is important that the parent attends. At this meeting, a school official will meet with the family to discuss and identify the barriers to the child attending school. Solutions should be brainstormed, so that a viable plan can be made to improve the child’s attendance. Should the child continue to be truant, a referral is typically made to Children and Youth and an assessment is opened.
Once a child has been referred to Children and Youth for truancy, the truancy caseworker will reach out to the family to determine why the child is truant from school. The truancy caseworker will discuss what services are available to the family. These services could include in-home therapy services, working with the family to set up tutoring in school or identifying other educational settings that may be a better fit for the child. Children and Youth will also offer a family meeting. The purpose of the family meeting is to identify and engage supports the family has, in an attempt to remedy the ongoing truancy. The truancy caseworker works with the family for 30 to 60 days and in that time offers any support the family needs, whether it is assisting the parent in getting the child up in the morning, transporting the child to school if the child misses the bus, or coordinating a school meeting to address any issues that concern the child in the school setting. Should a child continue to be truant despite these interventions, Children and Youth will file an adjudication petition for the child to become a dependent in the child welfare system. This means that the agency could obtain legal custody of the child so that the court system can enforce the child attending school.
There are many benefits to school attendance, including but not limited to: graduating from high school and an improved relationship with the school. Children who are habitually truant are more likely to drop out from school and engage in illegal activity. School attendance is important, no matter the child’s age. If you are struggling to get your child to school, reach out to your child’s guidance counselor or principal and ask for help. Encourage your child to go to school daily, even on days they don’t “feel well.” Each school has access to a school nurse who is capable of evaluating your child and can send them home if your child needs to be sent home. Talk to your child. Ask what is going on at school and ensure they feel safe.