Attendance policies - Key Points to Remember (September 2014 School Leader Update)
As school gets started, it is a good time to revisit the Department’s guidance on attendance policies. In order to get back to the books, your students need to be back in school. These issues are generally handled on a local level. However, here are some key things to remember when drafting your policies.
Educational Need and Attendance
- A school district's primary obligation is the education of its students.
- In these changing times, it is increasingly clear that districts must exercise reasonable responsiveness to accommodate a wide range of learning needs in order to best support academic success.
- Because a student's unwillingness to attend school may be caused by his or her limited academic success, school districts are obligated to provide reasonable educational alternatives or supports for those students at risk of not succeeding academically.
Discipline and Attendance
- School districts have an obligation to provide a learning environment that is safe and orderly to support the academic success of all students. This means that school districts must set reasonable expectations for student behavior, including school attendance, and may impose reasonable sanctions when those expectations are not met, subject to provision of legal due process.
- For a secondary student, failure to attend school may be considered behavior that is subject to disciplinary sanctions. For secondary students less than 16 years of age and their parents, school attendance is a legal obligation. Teachers and other school staff who must accommodate unnecessarily absent students may have less time to respond to the needs of students who are more regular in their school attendance.
- Students should not be subject to sanctions for failure to attend school if lack of attendance is beyond the control of the student. Some absences should be excused without disciplinary penalty. Illness, school-sponsored trips, or "unavoidable" occurrences (court appearances or other legal obligations, bereavement, family emergencies, etc.) would be examples of excused absences. It is also reasonable to require a doctor's verification of the illness in some circumstances. It is not reasonable to do so in every case since to do so may create a hardship on families with limited or no insurance or families with working parents. Additionally, if a student has frequent or prolonged absences due to illness, the district is advised to determine whether the student has a disability under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- If a child is already receiving IDEA or 504/ADA services and is frequently absent, the child’s team may need to consider whether the child’s absences are closely related to the child’s disability, whether the child’s plan needs to be revised, or both.
- School districts may define by policy what are excused and unexcused absences. The determination of whether an absence is excused is made by the school, not by the parent.
- In order to facilitate practical administration and communication of district student expectations, the district may adopt a number of "allowable" unexcused absences. Five to seven absences per semester would not seem to be unreasonably low, although this number must be set locally.
- Excused and unexcused absences should not be combined for the imposition of sanctions under an attendance policy.
- Absences should not include suspensions or classes missed because of attendance at a school-sponsored trip or activity.
- The policy should provide reasonable administrative flexibility in the administration of disciplinary action. Administrators should be given and are expected to use judgment in the determination of excused versus unexcused absences and also in the imposition of a range of sanctions for lack of attendance. The sanctions should be imposed within the parameters established by the requirements of substantive and procedural due process.
- Procedural due process requires that the policy be clearly written so that parents and students understand what behavior is unacceptable. The policy must be properly adopted by the district board and disseminated to parents and students.
- Substantive due process requires that the attendance policy be fair and reasonable. It requires that there be a legitimate relationship between the punishment and the misconduct.
Academic Credit or Grade Reduction and Attendance
- Significant lack of attendance in a course of study might reasonably be expected to negatively affect academic performance which would negatively affect a student's grade in that course.
Grade reductions may result from absences in the following situations:
- Failure to attend make-up sessions as assigned for the completion of make-up work.
- If points or percentages for attendance and participation are given, the denial of those points or percentages for absenteeism is a reasonable practice.
- Additional work may be assigned to compensate for class time lost due to absences. However, the failure to complete make-up assignments satisfactorily within a reasonable time is separate act and constitutes grounds for reduced credit.
- The report card should indicate whether grades have been reduced for absences. This answers the criticism that a district's grading system is a misrepresentation of the students' academic achievement.
- An attendance policy may provide that students will receive no credit after exceeding a number of unexcused absences. Any attendance policy providing that students may be "dropped" from a class because of excessive unexcused absences should make reasonable provisions for alternative classes or activities within the parameters of the district's resources.
- This recognizes that the primary purpose of the policy is educational rather than disciplinary. This also recognized that the "reasonableness" of alternative programs or activities will vary with district resources. A large district might provide a "night school" program, while a small district might require participation in community service or Saturday tutoring sessions.
- The total number of absences which result in being dropped from a class or being given "no-credit" should be "reasonable." This recognizes that sometimes there is no other remedy, but districts should not make it easy for students to circumvent the Compulsory Attendance Law by expelling them. Dropping a student from a program after fewer than five or six absences appears to be an unreasonable sanction.
- The attendance policy should be reviewed at least every five years as required by 281-IAC 12.3(2). As part of this ongoing review process, boards are required to consider the potential that the attendance policy imposes a disparate impact on students by virtue of race, color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity, or socioeconomic status.