In almost every state, school attendance is compulsory. Compulsory school attendance means school attendance is required for all students of school age by the laws of the state. Tracking and enforcing compulsory attendance is not always as easy s one might hope for. School attendance tracking can be accomplished by many different means. Some examples are: (1) Teacher’s classroom role book; (2) School-based computer attendance records; (3) School-based attendance cards; (4) District-level computerized attendance data management programs; and (5) State-level attendance data systems.
Evidence of the importance of school attendance tracking is demonstrated in Louisiana. In the state of Louisiana, schools are given “School Report Cards” where their percentage of attendance directly impacts their school’s performance scores. Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, factors impacting school attendance, are figured into a formula for school profiles (School Report Card). School profile scores in Louisiana also affect each local school district’s profile scores. Each school district is given a “District Composite Report” (District “Report Card”). The District Composite Report gives school attendance percentages for each school, attendance percentages for the district, suspension/expulsion rates, and compares the percentages to state averages.
By closely tracking and monitoring school attendance, schools are better able to provide interventions to improve attendance. Some effective interventions may include:
(1) Classroom teacher makes contact with parents when students are absent more than 2 days in a row;
(2) The school’s computer system telephones the parent to report their child’s absence from school for that day (computer also keeps a record of the date and time of contact with the home phone in case the information is needed later);
(3) After 5 days of absence, a school resource officer makes a home visit to check on the student;
(4) Counselors or attendance personnel check and verify excuses presented by the students upon their return to school following an absence. In the state of Louisiana, compulsory school attendance laws and school policy allow for the following types of excuses for absences:
(a) Temporarily excused absence – student presents note from parent with an excusable reason (sick, family emergency, car trouble, etc.). Student may make up any missed schoolwork and receive credit for the work, but the day of absence counts against the number of days required for school attendance.
(b) Fully Excused Absence – student has a note or excuse from a medical doctor or dentist for the day or days of absence from school. These excused days do not count against the student’s days required for school attendance. The student may make up any work missed and will receive credit for any made up work.
(c) Unexcused Absence – either the student did not present a written excuse for the absence or the written excuse was not a valid excusable reason for being absent. In this case, the student may not make up class work missed due to the absence. Out-of-school suspensions also receive an unexcused absence record for any days of suspension from school and the student may not make up any work missed during the out-of-school suspension.
(d) Extenuating Circumstances – absences resulting from extenuating circumstances can be appealed to a district level or school level attendance worker who has the authority to declare the absence as an “extenuating circumstance”. In the state of Louisiana, only a Child Welfare and Attendance Supervisor or Director of Child Welfare and Attendance may declare the absence an “extenuating circumstance”. When the appeal is approved for “extenuating circumstances”, the day of absence is totally excused, all work may be made up, and the day of absence does not count against the required number of days for school attendance.
After interventions have been tried by the school to address a student’s attendance problem and the problem persists, enforcement of the state’s attendance laws should be pursued. Enforcement of compulsory attendance should then become a combined effort by school officials, law enforcement, and judicial services. A school district should establish data limits to which attendance enforcement is necessary. Some examples justifying enforcement may include the following:
(1) 5 or more consecutive unexcused absences;
(2) Accumulation of 8 or more days of unexcused absences;
(3) Accumulation of 10 or more days of absence during one semester;
(4) Accumulation of 16 or more days of absence during a school year;
(5) Accumulation of 15 or more unexcused tardies to school during a semester of school;
Districts and states may set their own standards necessary to enforce their state’s laws on compulsory school attendance, but the fact remains, good attendance data showing the attendance violations and details is very important in pursuing enforcement of compulsory attendance law.
Some examples of combined efforts between schools and law enforcement to enforce compulsory school attendance are as follows:
(1) School officials submit the names of students who are showing excessive absences at their school;
(2) District-level school personnel may do one of the following:
(a) Minimal attendance violation (15 days of absence or less) – Meet with the parents and student and counsel with them concerning compulsory attendance law and the need for good school attendance. Student may be placed on Attendance Probation for the remainder of the school year.
(b) Moderate attendance violation (15 – 20 days of absence) – Refer the parent and student to a district attendance committee or truancy center to address the attendance problem. The family and/or student may be placed on an attendance contract with stipulations for improvement and penalties for further violations. Student and parent may be placed on strict Attendance Probation for remainder of the school year.
(c) Serious attendance violations (20+ days of absence) – The necessary paperwork is completed and the parent and student are summons to Truancy Court and/or full court on charges of violation of state compulsory school attendance law. The judge may levee a fine against the parent (example: $15.00 per day for each day of absence plus a $300 fine for the violation), order jail time for the parent (30 days in jail), order the student to be placed into a detention center for a specified time, and/or place the student and parent on attendance probation (either supervised or unsupervised probation) for one calendar year.
The enforcement level of compulsory school attendance law may give some district level personnel some enforcement authority by the laws of their state. If, in fact, a district level school attendance staff member has law enforcement authority, the staff member should have proper identification showing their enforcement authority. Appropriate identification for this authority can be: police badge, sheriff deputy badge, law enforcement commission card, law enforcement I.D. card, or some other means showing law enforcement authority. In every case, there should be a picture I.D. showing the person having the authority to enforce school attendance law.
Sheriff Commission Card Pocket-style Sheriff Badge
Deputy Sheriff Identification Card
One might ask, “Why do I need to show my authority to enforce school attendance law?” Or, “Why do I need an I.D. card?” The answer is simple. Given the day and age we live and the fact that not everyone in our school districts know who has authority to enforce attendance law, we should always identify our self when we see children on the streets (children not going to school or playing hooky). Showing a law enforcement I.D. card or badge makes an immediate impression upon students caught playing hooky or students on the streets without parental supervision during school hours. Not only does the I.D. card or badge make an impression—it protects us. It also protects children from being picked up by “just anyone” saying they are law enforcement personnel. Another reason to carry an I.D. card or badge is that it gets the attention of parents quicker when they know we have the authority of the law behind us.
There are sometimes obstacles in obtaining a badge, I.D. card, or law enforcement commission card. Some law enforcement agencies do not allow anyone but their paid law enforcement officers to carry law enforcement identification. In those situations, carrying an I.D. card or badge might not be allowed in that district. Cultivating a good working relationship between our jobs and law enforcement staff is imperative if we plan to obtain a badge or I.D. card. We must get to know the Sheriff and/or the chief of police in our districts and explain our needs. In many cases, they will permit attendance workers to carry law enforcement identification if we approach them in the right way.
Good school attendance is so very important. School attendance very closely correlates with academic performance in schools; therefore, enforcing compulsory school attendance is everyone’s job—both law enforcement and schools. We, as attendance workers must work hand in hand with law enforcement to keep children in school. If allowed to continue violating school attendance law, children will sooner or later become a dropout statistic. Every child deserves an education, and we must see that they attend school to get an appropriate education. School attendance workers have an important part in building our future—they help keep school age children in school each school day.
Published in 2003 Spring /Summer IATDP Journal