Missing Out on Middle School: Absences and Absenteeism
If you're like most moms, you probably have some difficulty getting your child to school on time every day. You may even discover that your tween or teenager has been skipping some classes or the entire school day. Or perhaps your child goes to school without a problem, but you're just wondering if you can take her out of school for that grand family vacation. Whatever the case, here's what you need to know about absences in middle school.
Excused vs. Unexcused Absences
Your child's middle school likely gave information at the beginning of the school year on absences. If your child goes to a private school, check with the school for its absence policy. For public schools, policies on absences must follow their state's education code. States usually differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. For example, California's education code states that excused absences include absences for illness, medical appointments, funeral services, jury duty, religious holidays, United States citizen naturalization ceremonies and spending time with an immediate family member in the armed forces who has just returned from or is about to report to duty, as well as other justifiable personal reasons. The education code allows school administrators discretion on what can be considered a justifiable personal reason.
Your child's middle school may give further specific examples on what will be considered excused and unexcused absences. For example, your child's school may specifically state that vacation, the student's birthday, car trouble, lack of childcare, shopping trips and oversleeping will be considered unexcused absences.
Check with your child's middle school on how to report your child's absences. Failure to follow your child's school's procedure for reporting absences may result in your child's absence being marked as unexcused, even if it was for an excused reason.
How Many Absences are Allowed
You'll have to check with your child's school and/or your state's education code when it comes to the number of absences that are allowed in a school year. While your child's school may not have a limit on the number of excused absences, it likely has a limit on the number of unexcused absences that a student can have. States set the number of unexcused absences that are allowed in their schools in a school year in their education codes. Typically, for public schools, the number of unexcused absences allowed in a school year before penalties kick in are three to five.
In California for example, the education code states that if a child misses three full days of school in a school year without a valid excuse, she will be classified a truant and reported to the school district's supervisor or attendance supervisor. A valid excuse includes, but is not limited to, one of the situations set out in its education code as an excused absence. The state's definition of an excused absence allows school administrators some discretion, based on the student's circumstance. In California, a student who is tardy or absent for more than a 30-minute period during the school day on three occasions within the school year may also be classified as a truant.
In Georgia, students are considered truant if they have five or more unexcused absences in a school year. As in California, the state also gives its school administrators the power to consider tardiness and partial-day absences, such as when a student skips some classes, to be unexcused absences.
The Consequences of Truancy
The consequences that a student faces after being classified as a truant varies by state. If your child goes to a private school, check with the school for its truant policy. Once a student is classified as a truant, she may face consequences such as detention, makeup classes, truancy mediation programs and/or appearance before a attendance review board. In extreme cases, a student that is repeatedly truant may be referred to the police department and/or juvenile court. The juvenile court system may require that the student do community service, pay a fine and/or attend a court-approved truancy prevention program. In some cases, the student, if she has a driver's license, may lose her driving privileges. Under federal law, however, youth cannot be imprisoned because of truancy.
The parents of a truant may also face consequences. A state's education code may state that when parents, legal guardians or any other persons having control or charge of the student fails to get the student to go to school, they can be penalized by a fine and/or face imprisonment.
Also, in many states, a student who misses more than 10 days of school in a school year will be required to repeat the grade instead of moving on to the next grade.
Why School Attendance Matters
Not surprisingly, data shows that missing school negatively affects academic performance. The more school days and/or classes your child misses, the more likely it is that he'll fall behind academically.
Truancy has even bigger consequences. According to the nonprofit organization Strategies for Youth, truant youths typically have some emotional issues, including low self-esteem, and facing social isolation. They are also often vulnerable to peer pressure to engage in the types of behaviors that limit their chances for success in life. In fact, truancy is a predictor of teen pregnancy, substance abuse and dropping out of school completely. Students under the age of 12 who are truant are more likely to become involved in crime.
Getting Your Child to School
If you find out that your child is missing school and/or skipping classes, try talking to him to convey the importance of school attendance and to find out why he isn't going. If it's because of bullying, set up a meeting with your child's teacher, principal or school counselor to discuss the problem. If he feels isolated, see if there are any school clubs or sports teams that he may be interested in joining to make more friends.
Another common reason for school absences and truancy is undiagnosed learning disabilities. Students with undiagnosed learning disabilities often become discouraged and skip school because they feel that there's no hope for them. If your child seems to have great difficulty with material that he should be able to understand at his age, check with her doctor regarding the possibility of a learning disability or some other condition that can affect school performance. If your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability and has a special education plan, sometimes called an individualized education plan, make sure that the school is following the plan.
Whatever the reason behind your child's behavior, remember to always keep the lines of communication open with him, as well as his teachers and the school principal. The middle school years can be hard, and it's best if your child knows that he can come to you for anything, even after he does something like skip school.