Absences and School Truancy
With the passage of Act 138 (2016) and Act 39 (2018), the Pennsylvania Department of Education enacted their latest revisions of school attendance and the truancy process into law as it updated the Pennsylvania School Code of 1949. The latest revisions emphasize the need of schools and students/families to work collaboratively together to create solutions for students struggling with school attendance, as research has indicated over and over again the positive effect on a student's success of regular and consistent school attendance.
Below are a definition of important terms, as well as a summary of the school truancy process and the steps the school must take with truant students.
Some absences or lateness to school are excused when accompanied by a note from a parent, guardian, or doctor that sufficiently documents the occurrence (student name, dates for all absences/lateness, and a reason). Some examples would be:
- Doctor/dental appointments
- Religious service or observance
- Social service appointments
- Temporary sickness/illness
Please refer to the WSSD School Board Policy for the full list of excused absences.
A student is unexcused if they are absent without an acceptable excuse for all or part of any day during which school is held. This includes being tardy for school or class. The state of Pennsylvania declares that after 3 unexcused absences, a student is considered truant. When a student accumulates 6 unexcused absences, the student is considered habitually truant. These legal designations are set by the Pennsylvania Department of Educattion, and not by the WSSD. Their main purpose is to help designate, prioritize, and serve the students and families that may need more support in imprioving school attendance. Unexcused school tardiness/lateness is also handled in the same way that unexcused absences; with support and interventions. Therefore, unexcused and lost instructional minutes due to lateness can be tallied to accumulate to full missed days and therefore set in motion the school truancy process.
The Truancy Process
As students encounter the truancy process, the School Code in Pennsylvania makes it clear that the role of the school is to support the student with gradual steps of more intensive interventions in order to help the student improve their attendance to school before punitive measures are taken. The people involved in this process include attendance secretaries, school counselors, district social workers, principals, and even outside social service organizations that can help supprt students and families.
Once a student accumulates 3 unexcused absences, an Official Notice of Truancy (often termed the "3 Day Letter") is sent to the home and parents. At this time, the school counselor makes contact with the student and/or family, if they have not done so already. This step is put in place in order to encourage better school attendance and to see what might be the causes or concerns with regular and prompt school attendance.
When a students accumulates 6 unexcused absences and is now deemed habitually truant, a second letter is sent to the home notifying the student and family that the school will hold a meeting to create an individualized SAIP (Student Attendance Improvment Plan) with the guidance of a district social worker and other applicable school personnel. The family is invited to collaboratively work with the team in place to find and document solutions and strategies for their student's attendance improvement.
If additional unexcused absences occur beyond this point, the school district can take other actions in an attempt to help improve attendance, which could include:
1) Having the student work with a community based attendance improvement program
2) Making a referral to social service organizations such as Child Guidance Resource Center. If a referral is done to Child Guidance, an intake appointment will be set up with a social worker to work with the family. Referrals to the county DHS office (Children and Youth Services) can also be made when appropriate.
3) A citation can be filed against the student or parent with the local district magisterial court for truancy, as unlawful absences (unexcused absences for students between ages of 8 and 17) can carry criminal penalties such as fines, community service hours, or the suspension or delay of driver's licenses privileges for the student.