Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter
Dear Legal Mailbag:
As the principal of an elementary school, I find the beginning of a new school year to be a magical time, when I see familiar faces and new faces of students eager to return to school. Sometimes, however, I don’t see certain students when I should. One of my students struggled with attendance last year, and she hasn’t been to school at all this year, even though we started last week.
We have reached out to the parent, but she hasn’t responded, so we really don’t know what is going on with her and her daughter. I feel that I should be doing more here. But I don’t know what to do when my calls go unanswered.
Does Legal Mailbag have any suggestions?
Looking to Help
School attendance has been a concern for our legislators for many years, and their efforts to address this issue continued in the last legislative session. Before reviewing those legislative changes, it may be helpful to review the previously-existing requirements. Since 1990, boards of education have been required to “adopt and implement policies and procedures concerning truants who are enrolled in schools.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-198a defines a “truant” as a student who has four or more unexcused absences in a month or ten or more unexcused absences over the course of a school year, and it has prescribed a number of provisions required for such policies and procedures, including:
- Holding a meeting with the parent or guardian of each child who is a truant and appropriate school personnel to review and evaluate the reasons for the child being a truant not later than ten school days after the child’s fourth unexcused absence in a month or tenth unexcused absence in a school year;
- Coordinating services with and referrals of children to community agencies providing child and family services;
- Notifying parents or guardians of each child enrolled in grades kindergarten through eight in writing at the beginning of the school year and upon enrollment during the school year of the obligations of the parent or guardian under the mandatory attendance laws;
- Obtaining from the parent or guardian of students in grades kindergarten through eight each year or upon enrollment a telephone number or other means of contacting such parent or guardian during the school day;
- Implementation of a truancy intervention model identified by the Department of Education for any school under its jurisdiction that has a disproportionately high rate of truancy, as determined by the Commissioner of Education;
- Having a system of monitoring individual unexcused absences of children in grades kindergarten through eight, which provides that school personnel or volunteers under their direction must make a reasonable effort to notify, by telephone and by mail, the parent or guardian whenever such a child fails to report to school on a regularly scheduled school day and no indication has been received by school personnel that the child’s parent or guardian is aware of the pupil’s absence.
Public Act 22-47 adds three new provisions to these required elements for truancy policies, two to be implemented next year, and one that has been effective since last July 1.
Such procedures must now also include a requirement that school officials provide notice to the parent or guardian of a child who is a truant of information concerning the existence and availability of the 2-1-1 Infoline program, and information about other pediatric mental and behavioral health screening services and tools that the Department of Children and Families is required to develop in cooperation with public health agencies specified in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-22r, which in turn the Behavioral Health Partnership Oversight Council is required to post on its website. School districts should make sure that they are providing such information to parents or guardians of truant students now.
Two new requirements for truancy intervention policies and procedures will be effective next year. Effective July 1, 2023, school districts will be required to have an “appropriate school mental health specialist” conduct an evaluation of each child who is a truant to determine if additional behavioral health interventions are necessary for the wellbeing of the child. Public Act 22-47 defines “appropriate school mental health specialist” as “any person employed by a local or regional board of education to provide mental health services to students and includes, but is not limited to, a (1) school social worker, (2) school psychologist, (3) trauma specialist, (4) behavior technician, (5) board certified behavior analyst, (6) school counselor, (7) licensed professional counselor, and (8) licensed marriage and family therapist.”
Second, as noted above, the statute requires that school district policies regarding truants include “implementation of a truancy intervention model identified by the Department of Education for any school under its jurisdiction that has a disproportionately high rate of truancy, as determined by the Commissioner of Education.” The General Assembly has charged the State Department with the responsibility by September 1, 2023 to develop a new truancy intervention model “that accounts for mental and behavioral health.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-198a as amended, in turn, requires that boards of education implement this new State Department of Education truancy intervention model or a similar model that meets the same standards by September 1, 2023.
Finally, Legal Mailbag certainly hopes that your outreach to the parent in accordance with your district’s truancy intervention policy and procedures is effective. However, if the problem continues and the parent is not responsive to your outreach, as a mandated reporter you must keep in mind your duty to file a report with DCF for educational neglect.