- A bill in the Wyoming legislature would allow districts to set their own policies regarding excused and unexcused absences and to decide how many unexcused absences amount to “habitual truancy” or “willful absenteeism.”
- “Habitual” truants, the Joint Education Committee bill says, are students who disobey parents’ or guardians’ “reasonable and lawful demands” to attend school. The bill defines “willful absenteeism” as exceeding the limit set by the local school board when the days missed “are the result of a parent's, guardian's or custodian's willful failure, neglect or refusal to require a child's regular attendance at school.”
- The proposal, which would go into effect July 1, outlines when attendance officers should contact the district attorney. It would also increase fines for parents when their children are repeatedly absent from the $5-to-$25 range to the $50-to-$150 range.
Variation within states regarding attendance policies is not unusual — especially when it comes to excused and unexcused absences — says Hedy Chang, the executive director of Attendance Works, which has brought national attention to the issue of chronic absenteeism.
But at a time when states are required to collect data on chronic absenteeism under the Every Student Succeeds Act and many are using that indicator as part of their school accountability systems, having common definitions can be useful in comparing trends and identifying which districts are succeeding or struggling to reduce truancy, Chang says.
Some district leaders in Wyoming agree with the plan, saying it makes sense for districts with fewer instructional days than others. But families also move between districts and “could be confused if the rules vary on when truancy is considered a problem,” Chang said. In addition, Chang warns districts against taking legal action against families too soon because it suggests attendance is a legal matter, leaving schools less aware “that they first have a role in supporting prevention and early intervention.”
Wyoming isn’t the only state considering proposals regarding attendance so far this year. A legislator in Georgia has introduced a bill that would allow parents to send their children to schools in other districts as long as they have a friend or relative with an address in the desired district — a scenario that led to the conviction of a mother in Ohio in 2011 when she used her father’s address.
And a lawmaker in Ohio — where an online charter school closed after the state determined operators received funding for students they could not account for — wants virtual schools to do a better job of tracking attendance and addressing absenteeism.