In our Washington state, school attendance is required by law for all children ages 8-17 enrolled in public school. The law also applies to children ages 6-7 if the parent enrolls their child in public school. When students miss school and their parents have not excused their absence, they can be considered truant. Truancy is defined as being absent from all or the majority of a student's scheduled classes without a valid excuse.
School districts around the state have different rules and regulations about student attendance and how parents should excuse absences. There are rules about how to submit excuses (note, phone call, email) and how long they will be accepted after the absences occurred. Be sure to read the attendance policies in your school district and discuss them with your student.
When a child misses one day of school without a valid excuse, the school is required to call or send a letter home. If that becomes three unexcused absences, the student and parent will likely be asked to come to the school for a meeting to discuss the attendance policy and reasons for the absences. The school may have the student and parent/guardian sign an agreement to attend school, refer the student to see the school counselor or other school support staff, or suggest other ways in which the school, parents or student can help remedy the issues involved in missing school.
If the student accrues seven unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a school year, his/her school is legally obliged to file a petition with Juvenile Court. When this happens, the courts become involved through the Becca Program. The petition will be stayed at this point, meaning no court appearance is necessary. The family will then be encouraged to work with the school to address and identify what is causing the truancy to stop the behavior. The youth's attendance will be checked regularly and if it is not improving, the family will be required to attend further intervention meetings to set additional goals. The student and his/her parents/guardians might be invited to attend a Community Truancy Board.
The Community Truancy Board will try to identify barriers to school attendance, recommend methods for improving attendance, and to advise of the legal process and the consequences of continued truancy. If the school and the Becca Program believe that all efforts at their disposal have not resulted in improvement, they will request that the Stay on the petition be lifted. If the Stay is lifted the court will formally order the youth to attend school. This could result in additional sanctions for the youth if they continue to have unexcused absences. Parents may also be petitioned and sanctioned if the school feels the truancy problem lies with or is related to their behaviors. Parents may file a truancy petition with juvenile court if their student misses 7 days of school in a month or 10 in a year without their permission and the school has not yet filed.
If you have further questions about this process, contact the Island County Becca Coordinator or your school’s attendance administrator.