Dear Legal Mailbag:
I understand that we can no longer make referrals to the juvenile courts for truancy, and I have a simple question – now what? The problem of student truancy didn’t just go away, and now the courts won’t help us.
As you know, these days we are being told to call almost everything in to DCF, and I remember that the law refers to “neglect” as well as “abuse.” The way I see it, if a parent is not making sure that his or her child is attending school, that’s “educational neglect.” Next time I have one of those students who are out of school for days and days without good excuse, I will just call DCF and let them deal with it. Does that sound good to you?
I’m Calling It In
It is incorrect to equate truancy with educational neglect. You will have to figure out a different approach to truancy, and Legal Mailbag is here to help.
To be sure, there are some circumstances when you and other mandated reporters must report educational neglect, and thus it is important to understand what it is. Just last month, DCF issued helpful new guidance on how educational neglect should be defined. The new operational definition is:
Educational neglect occurs when a school-aged child has excessive absences from school through the intent or neglect of the parent or caregiver. (Emphasis added).
As you will note from this definition, mere truancy is not educational neglect. Rather, for a situation to present an issue of educational neglect, the parent must either intend that the child not attend school or neglect his or her responsibilities under the mandatory attendance statute with the result the child does not attend school.
The truancy policy that your board of education has had to adopt in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-198a provides an opportunity for you to assess whether a parent or caregiver is responsible for educational neglect. As you may recall, one of the provisions required by law for truancy policies is “(1) The holding of a meeting with the parent of each child who is a truant, or other person having control of such child, and appropriate school personnel to review and evaluate the reasons for the child being a truant . . . .” If a parent attends such meetings and works in good faith to address the child’s truancy, the parent is not responsible for educational neglect, even if the problem continues, and a report to DCF is not appropriate.
In any event, truancy remains a serious problem, and it important to know that there are new tools for educators to use in addressing truancy. Instead of relying on Family With Service Needs petitions and the courts, school officials are now encouraged to work with community partners to address issues of truancy. Indeed, Section 10-198a provides that board of education truancy policies should include provision for “(2) coordinating services with and referrals of children to community agencies providing child and family services . . . .” Earlier this year, the State Department of Education issued guidance on working with youth service bureaus to combat truancy, and that guidance is linked here: Charlene Russell-Tucker, Letter to Superintendents: Youth Service Bureau Referral for Truancy and Defiance of School Rules (February 22, 2018). Dealing with truancy remains a challenge, but it is important to remember that you are not alone.