Truancy / BECCA Bill

The role of the Truancy department is charged with the oversight of student absenteeism within the district. Wenatchee School District Attendance Policy stipulates that daily attendance is required for all Wenatchee School District students. Regular attendance is the key to completing course work on time.
 

Parents are encouraged to make school the priority when scheduling appointments during the school day. If a student has a scheduled appointment during the school day, please provide the school with a written note from the person or clinic where the student was seen to excuse that absence.

A state law in Washington, called the “Becca Bill,” requires all children, from age 8 to 17 to attend school regularly, and it requires their parents or legal guardians to make sure they are in school regularly.
 
Students can be in public school, private school or homeschool.
 
The law requires that students are in school, full-time, every day, unless there is a valid excuse.
 
If a student misses school without a valid excuse, the student might be considered “truant.” When a student is truant, schools are required to:
  • Notify the family;
  • Meet and work with the family and student to figure out why, and
  • Try different strategies to help improve the student’s attendance.
If that doesn’t work, a student and family can be referred to a Community Truancy Board or to court.
 

If a student misses school a lot, even with a valid excuse, the law now requires schools to meet and work with the family to figure out why, and make a plan to help the student get to school regularly.  That is because missing school a lot, or “chronic absenteeism” can make it really hard for a student to keep up. It can also be a sign that a student might not be getting the supports he/she needs. When we are talking about missing school, “a lot” can seem like “a little” – missing even just 2 days a month can add up to a big impact!

If getting your child to school every day has been a challenge, your school can help break down barriers and help your child build a new habit of every day, all day, on time.  Check out OEO’s FAQs to find out what may happen if a student continues to be truant, and ideas for getting back on track with regular attendance. If you need more help solving problems with attendance, please call the WSD Truancy Officer at (509) 663-1248 extention 13228.

A parent can face a court hearing, and possible fines or community service if a child is truant, and continues to be truant after being referred to court.

After unexcused absences in a month the school should schedule a conference with you and your child, and might do an assessment with your child to try to find what is causing the absences.

If a student has 5 unexcused absences in a month, the district must either:
  • Make an agreement with the parent and student to set attendance requirements,
  • Refer the student to a community truancy board that will make an agreement with the student and parent; or
  • File a petition with the juvenile court.

If a student has 7 unexcused absences in a month, or 10 in a year, even after the district has taken steps to try to reduce absences, then the law says the district must file a petition with the juvenile court against the parent, the student, or both.  

When the court gets the petition, it generally won’t move forward immediately. First, it will “stay” or hold the petition while the student and parent are referred to a community truancy board (if one is available).

If the community truancy board doesn’t reach an agreement with the parent and student, or if the parent or student doesn’t comply within the time set, then the case goes back to the juvenile court. The court will schedule a hearing.

If a court finds that a parent failed to ensure their child attends school as required, the court can order the parent to:
  • Pay a fine of not more than $25 for each day of unexcused absence; or
  • Do community service.

A parent can avoid the fines by showing that the school didn’t follow its duties to notify, meet or work with the parent and student to reduce absences, or by attending a conference to address the reasons for the absences and participating with the school and student in a supervised plan for attendance.

A child who misses a lot of school misses out on a lot of opportunities.

Sometimes there are completely valid reasons why a child can’t get to school (for example, if they are sick, or dealing with a health condition, or trying to sort things out if their family loses their housing). If a child has to miss school a lot, you can ask the school to work with you to put together a plan so that your child can still keep learning.

Sometimes students get in a habit of missing a few days now and then, and before you know it, it has added up to a lot of days. It might seem like they are doing fine, catching up when they get back, but the missed time can really make an impact in learning to read, write and do math. If a student misses several days, they might miss learning things that they’ll need to know as they move on to more complex topics. Missing days in high school can mean a student risks losing credit for a class. Missing days in elementary school can mean a student misses out on learning key things that they’ll need to be successful as the work gets harder.

Updates to the law this year now require districts to meet with parents if a child in elementary school has 5 or more excused absences in a month or 10 or more excused absences in a year. These meetings will be an important time to consider whether a child needs extra supports. 

If you have already given the district a doctor’s note and have worked out a plan to help the student keep on track with work, the meeting won’t be required. If the child already has an IEP or Section 504 Plan, then the team will participate in the meeting.

Read more about the rules for school attendance, and resources for helping break down barriers and support students to build a habit of regular attendance at the Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Attendance page at http://www.k12.wa.us/Attendance/default.aspx.

Excused absences include:
  • Participation in a school approved activity (e.g. sports, drama, community service)
  • Illness, health condition, medical appointment
  • Family emergency (including death or illness)
  • Religious or cultural observance, including a holiday or instruction
  • Court proceeding, or serving on a jury
  • Post-high school apprenticeship program visit or scholarship interview
  • Search and rescue activities
  • Absences related to a student’s homelessness;
  • Absences related to a deployment of an active duty parent or guardian
  • Suspension or expulsion
  • Activity agreed and approved by principal and parent

Generally, the school principal will decide if an absence meets the criteria for being excused or not. For example, sometimes a parent may call to say a child is sick and should be excused. A principal might ask the parent to provide a doctor’s note or ask for more detail before agreeing that the absence is excused.

If you disagree with the Principal’s decision you can ask to meet to discuss the issue, or ask to speak to someone at the District-level about your concerns.

  • Notify parents of the attendance rules and get a signature to show they received the notice 
  • Notify parents every time a student is absent,
  • Meet with parents and students to find out why,
  • Try different strategies to improve attendance, and in some cases,
  • Refer a student and parent to a Community Truancy Board or to court.

Washington’s “compulsory attendance law” starts at age 8. Parents can choose whether or not to send their younger children to school.

If a parent decides to enroll a child who is 6 or 7, then the student must attend school regularly, on time, unless there is a valid excuse (or the parent decides to remove them from school).

And remember, children have a right to access free public school starting at age 5!

If a child is 16 or older AND is regularly employed, or the parent agrees the child should not be required to attend school, or the child is emancipated, has already met graduation requirements or has received a GED, then the child is not required to continue to attend school.

Remember, youth have a right to access free public school until they are 21 years old, or until they graduate.  There are an increasing number of options for youth who are looking for alternatives to a traditional high school but still want a high school diploma. You can find information about options for older youth at OSPI’s Graduation a Team Effort page: http://www.k12.wa.us/GATE/Re-engagement/default.aspx.

Being sick is a valid excuse for being absent. A child should have the chance to make up what was missed, and not get in any trouble for being absent.

At the same time, if a child misses a lot of school for any reason, it makes it really hard to keep up with school work and take advantage of opportunities available at school. If your child is sick a lot, you can ask the school to work with you to find ways that your child can keep learning, and making progress with school work, even if it has to happen somewhere other than the classroom. 

If a student is temporarily unable to attend school for four weeks or more because of a physical and/or mental disability or illness s/he may qualify for Home/Hospital Instruction. More information is available here: http://www.k12.wa.us/HealthServices/HomeHospital.aspx. If a student is likely to be out for an extended period of time, or their absences may be intermittent, the student may need an evaluation and specialized supports through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan.