Truancy has long been identified as an educational, social and juvenile justice issue worthy of public and private attention. It has been linked to many problem behaviors in adolescence, school failure, school dropout and juvenile delinquency, among others.
Involving parents and other family members in truancy prevention and intervention is critical. There is a large body of research demonstrating the positive outcomes associated with increased parental involvement in school activities including improved academic achievement and reduced likelihood of dropout.
Involving moms and dads in truancy programming is more than simply inviting their attendance at a school or court meeting. True participation means that parents are sought after for their advice, experience and expertise in the community, as clients of our public systems of care and as experts in the lives of their kids. This means engaging parents as a natural course of events, not just when things are not going well.
An effective truancy plan will be prepared to respond to the first unexcused absence of an elementary student and not give up on the 100th absence of the habitually truant adolescent youth. Meaningful sanctions for truant behavior and meaningful incentives for school attendance are key components of truancy programs. Sanctions, traditionally used to respond to truancy, frequently mirror the punitive steps taken against other undesirable behaviors: detention, suspension, petition to juvenile court, denial of privileges, etc. Incentives tend to be recognition-based, but may include special experiences or even monetary rewards. The critical task in this area is to design sanctions and incentives that are meaningful to youth and their families.
Truant students place themselves at risk for financial failure, delinquent behaviors and substance abuse. Truancy prevention efforts must involve the family, the school and the community. Preventing truancy is about more than just forcing the youngster to attend class. You must identify and address the root cause.
Here are some ideas on how to prevent truancy:
1. Ask the school about their policy and procedures on excusing absences from school.
2. Ask the school to notify you when your youngster is absent. The school must notify you whether the absence is excused or unexcused to ensure the youngster is not forging his own excuses.
3. Discuss family expectations for earning a high school diploma.
4. Escort your youngster to school, whether by walking or driving the youngster. You can shield your youngster from violence or truant peers by taking her directly to her first class.
5. Explore alternative schools in your district. Other truant students can negatively influence your youngster and you may need to switch schools for severe problems. Talk to your school's guidance counselor about this possibility.
6. If you feel your district’s truancy or discipline procedures were not addressed properly, inquire about your district’s appeal process.
7. If you feel your school district policies are inadequate, speak with the Superintendent and school board members.
8. Immediately address issues of concern about your student with the school. Start with the teacher or counselor.
9. Insist on accurate record keeping. If your youngster has truancy issues, the school's attendance policies may not be consistent or effective enough to track your youngster.
10. Investigate the safety of the youngster's school. An environment with gang or bullying issues encourages truancy.
11. Look for attitudes from your youth that indicate unhappiness with school or fear of attending school. Listen to what they say and ask questions.
12. Make school a priority. Students must not miss school to help with the family business or to attend vacations that fall during the school year. Allowing students to miss school for reasons other than illness or family emergencies sends the message that school is not important.
13. Praise positive behaviors and achievements in school.
14. Respond quickly when the school notifies you of an unexcused absence. Learn how you can check your student’s attendance.
15. Talk about family expectations regarding school attendance.
16. Work with your youngster on subjects with which he struggles. Kids skip school to avoid facing embarrassment in the classroom when their academic performance is poor.
The Becca Bill—
The “Becca Bill” is Washington’s truancy law. It is intended to stop truancy before it becomes a problem. Schools and families work together as a team to ensure school attendance and student safety. However, if a student has unexcused absences, this law requires that schools and school districts take the following actions:
• One unexcused absence: The school must inform the parent when there is one unexcused absence. This is often done by a phone call home.
• Two unexcused absences: After the second unexcused absence, the school is required to schedule a meeting with the parent and student to discuss the causes of the unexcused absences and find solutions to prevent further absences. This is a team effort.
• Five unexcused absences within 30 days: The school must enter into a written truancy agreement with the family, where the parent, student and school agree on the necessary steps to resolve the student’s attendance problem.
• Seven unexcused absences during a month or at the tenth unexcused absence within a school year: The school district will file a petition in juvenile court to order the student to attend school. If this court order is violated, the court will call for a Contempt Hearing and the student could be ordered to do community service or spend time in juvenile detention.
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