Right Place. Right Time. Ready to Learn!
Nahyeli Mendivil, Truancy Case Manager
One of the most important things your children can do to achieve academic success is also one of the most basic, go to school every day. In fact, research has shown that it usually takes students three days to catch up with school work for every day they’ve missed. By making your child’s school attendance a priority, you will be taking an important step in supporting your child’s school success, and setting a good example. Every day counts.
What’s the Law?
Washington law requires children from age 8 to 17 to attend a public school, private school, or to receive home-based instruction (homeschooling). Children who are 6- or 7-years-old are not required to be enrolled in school. However, if parents enroll their 6- or 7-year-old, the student must attend full-time. Youth who are 16 or older may be excused from attending public school if they have graduated or acquired a GED. Washington’s truancy law, often termed the “Becca Bill”, is intended to curb school truancy before it becomes habitual. The law requires many things of schools, but only requires one thing of students: attend school. If a student does not attend school the law requires the school district to take action.
Some of the most common reasons for skipping school are oversleeping, wanting to hang out with friends, bullying and anxiety. Indications that a student may not be attending classes or school could be one or more of the following situations:
- Behind in schoolwork
- Leaving home and /or returning at irregular hours
- Inappropriate school attire
- Early morning personal phone calls
- Refusing to go to school
- Vague health complaints
- Changes in behavior and routine
- Unaware of school calendar, class schedule and assignments
- Never receiving mail from school
- Failing grades
- Keeping close company with non‐school attending friends
- Complaints of conflict with teacher and peers
- Evidence of alcohol and/or drug use
Guided by state law, we address attendance issues through a set of interventions established to support students and families. State law requires that schools file a truancy petition with the King County Juvenile Court when a student has accumulated a certain number of unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a school year. Schools may file a truancy petition after 20 absences whether or not they are excused.
|1||Day||Letter and/or phone call to family|
|3||Month||Conference with family|
|5||Month||School may file petition in court, enter an attendance agreement and/or refer to Community Truancy Board|
|7||Month||School must file petition in court|
|10||Year||School must file petition in court|
We use a multi-tiered program of interventions:
1. School Engagement Workshops
School Engagement workshops are informational sessions that provide an opportunity for families to hear about the law and reasons to engage in school. It allows for parents to talk with other parents and students with other students in a guided conversation. This is the opportunity for families to make a plan of action and ask for specific help from the District to ensure no further absences. These are held every 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at 4:30 p.m. at Sammamish High School.
2. Community Truancy Board
The Community Truancy Board (CTB) seeks to address the problem of truancy through the collaboration of school, court and community resource providers. Community volunteers serve on panels that interview students and their parents in an effort to identify reasons for the student’s failure to attend school. The board makes recommendations to the students, their parents and the District intended to improve the student’s attendance record and support the student in making such a change.
There is a fixed panel of four to six volunteers assigned to a week of the month to meet with a new family and to follow up and review the progress of previously seen students. The panel meets with new students and their family for an hour of focused time. These meetings are held every Wednesday from 3:00-5:30 p.m. and two to three families are served a week, one at a time.
The CTB works with students from the entire District in grades K-12 with attendance issues. The majority of the truancy cases seen are of middle and high school students. However, in recent years, the Board has begun to focus on elementary school students with excessive tardies and/or absences to prevent a pattern from developing as they transition into middle or high school. This level of intervention mostly involves the parents more so than the student.
3. District Level Case Manager
Students and families are assigned to a BSD staff person who connects the family with services and interventions that the district offers. The decision of when and whether a student moves to the next tier is determined by monitoring their attendance every two weeks and being in contact with school staff who provide updates on student performance.
4. Court Action
If the aforementioned district level interventions do not work, then truancy action is taken to the courts. The first hearing in any truancy action is a “preliminary hearing.” Here the court will hear the evidence from the school district, the parents and student to determine whether the truancy allegation is factual. If true, the court will enter a written order directing the student to go to school.
A student who successfully obeys the court order and goes to school without any unexcused absences, will most likely not be called back to court for any additional hearings.
Students and parents who willfully violate the court order and continue to have unexcused absences will be summoned back to court for a “contempt hearing.” A student or parent held in contempt may have the court impose coercive sanctions to correct the student’s attendance issues. The court may order a student to write a report, do community service, or spend time in juvenile detention. A parent may be required to do community service or even be issued fines of $25 for each day of their child’s truancy. Children are entitled to legal counsel once they face the threat of confinement.
What Can You Do?
Help your child get to school on time every day by planning ahead. Encourage your child to prepare for the next school day by laying out clothes the night before and helping to fix lunches. Babysitting, problems with a car or late bus, and the weather are not permissible reasons to miss school. Coming to school late will also be noted on your child’s permanent record, and will make it difficult for your child to stay caught up with the first lessons of each morning.
Follow school guidelines and attendance policy, and report excused absences immediately. At the beginning of the school year, review school rules and make sure you understand whom you need to call if your child is going to be absent.
Schedule family events with your child’s school schedule in mind. Try to plan holiday celebrations or family trips during weekends or school vacations. In the case of family emergencies or unexpected trips let the school know as soon as possible and speak to your child’s teacher to set up a means for your child to work ahead or bring important assignments on the trip.
Take an active role. Stay involved with your child’s daily experiences at school by asking how the school day went, and listening carefully to what your child shares with you about his/her successes and struggles. Make it a point to meet your child’s teacher and friends.
Identify potential sources of anxiety. If your child frequently appears upset or reluctant to go to school and cannot tell you why, schedule an appointment with his or her teacher or school counselor to talk about possible sources of the anxiety.
Limit the amount of time your child misses school due to medical appointments or illness. If possible, avoid scheduling doctor appointments during the school hours. Keep your child at home only in the case of contagious or severe illnesses.
Promote a restful environment. Have your child relax before bedtime by doing something like reading rather than something stimulating like watching TV or playing video games. Students need quality sleep to function properly and that usually ranges in getting 8 to 12 hours of slumber.