Navigating the Legal Issues of School Attendance & Student Engagement
The virtual educational environment has presented significant challenges for attendance and engagement of students. Schools must follow the law regarding attendance and truancy reporting requirements, whether students are participating in on-site or off-site learning. The importance placed on attendance is well founded. “Showing up” is a critical indicator of student success and determines funding through the bi-annual “Average Daily Membership” count.
How do attendance policies work?
Any person between the ages of seven and 18 is bound by the state’s compulsory attendance requirements, unless the individual reaches the age of 16 and meets the legal prerequisites to withdraw from school prior to graduation.
Students who accumulate 10 or more unexcused absences are considered to be habitually truant. Students who accumulate 10 or more absences — excused or unexcused — are considered to be chronically absent. School leaders must report students falling into these categories to juvenile courts where the truant student may face legal consequences.
The measuring of chronic absenteeism aligns Indiana state law with federal laws on attendance, found in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA’s provisions require that states adopt an indicator for accountability, such as chronic absenteeism.
While rare, prosecutors may bring misdemeanor charges against a parent who commits educational neglect by failing to send their child to school. Charges may not be brought until the parent has notice and the child has not returned to school the following day. Convictions for committing educational neglect range from 180 days of jail time to fines of up to $1,000 per day.
Students who cannot be located by their school are considered missing. If after sending a letter of concern to the student’s last known address the student does not respond, schools should email the Indiana Clearinghouse for Information on Missing Children at email@example.com.
Schools are subject to several state reporting requirements related to attendance, including a mandate that school boards adopt attendance policies and maintain an accurate daily record of attendance.
Just because a student is “attending” school virtually does not mean they are “engaged.” Though “academic engagement” is not defined by statute, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) defines the term as “the quality of students’ participation or connection with the schooling endeavor and hence with activities, values, people, goals, and places that comprise it.” To the extent it is possible, academic engagement off-site should mirror academic engagement on-site.
Maximizing engagement in an off-site environment will require a combination of innovative approaches. While a punitive approach may not yield results, parents should be reminded of the consequences of educational neglect. Additionally, the decision to remove students from a school in favor of homeschooling does not absolve parents of attendance reporting requirements. Indiana law allows public school superintendents to request homeschooled students’ attendance records to verify attendance.
This blog post was originally published in KGR’s monthly article for the Indiana Association of School Principals’ client newsletter. Navigating state and federal regulations can be challenging. For more information, contact the KGR Education Law and Public Policy team.
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