Attendance and Truancy FAQs
Why does good school attendance matter?
Students are not able to learn required subjects when they are absent from school. They miss critical instruction for understanding key concepts and fall behind quickly in completing assignments. Good school attendance usually correlates positively to good academic achievement.
Students who are truant from school often drop out of school later. Dropping out limits students' future alternatives, both in getting a higher education and getting a job.
Coming to school every day, being on time, and completing daily school assignments are all job-related skills. Students who learn to be regular in their school attendance and complete their schoolwork on time are more prepared to be regular in their work attendance and more able to complete their work duties as adults.
What is the Seattle School Board policy about attendance?
It is the policy of the Seattle School Board that consistent attendance is essential to the Seattle Public Schools mission of academic achievement for every student in every school. Truant students miss critical instruction in key concepts, quickly fall behind in school, and are less likely to achieve academic success. By state law, school attendance is mandatory, and unexcused absences and truancy are prohibited within Seattle Public Schools. To combat unexcused absences and truancy, all Seattle Public Schools are dedicated to providing racially, culturally, and age appropriate interventions. Furthermore, all Seattle Public Schools are dedicated to increasing the meaningful involvement of parents in all aspects of their students' lives, including the reduction of truancy.
Seattle Public Schools believes that school-based interventions allow schools to tailor interventions to specific students, and allow parents to become directly involved in their student's school life. District-based interventions such as truancy petitions are an important supplement to school-based interventions. Generally, judicial action will be the final intervention utilized.
What does Washington State law say about attending school?
RCW 28.255 states that parents/guardians are required to have their school-age children enrolled in an educational program and to take steps to ensure regular daily school attendance.
Students between the ages of 8 and under 18, as well as 6- and 7-year-olds who are enrolled in a public school program, must attend school, unless they:
- Are incapable of attending school due to medical or mental reasons.
- Are at least 16-years old and are regularly employed, and have the permission of a parent/guardian to work in lieu of attending school.
- Have met the educational requirements (GED, or other means found acceptable to the Superintendent).
Children found to be in violation of the Compulsory Attendance law may be subject to a truancy petition filed with the Superior Court. The Court may order a child to attend school, and if the child willfully violates the Court's order, the Court may take whatever actions necessary to insure compliance and regular school attendance. These actions may include community service, wearing an ankle monitor, or participating in a work crew.
What are schools expected to do?
Schools are required to:
- Take daily attendance and notify parents/guardians when a student has an unexcused absence.
- Schedule a conference to meet with the student and parent/guardian to address attendance issues after two (2) or more unexcused absences in a month.
- Complete a Student Attendance Agreement.
- Take steps to determine why your child is not attending school and help develop a plan to ensure your child's regular attendance.
- File a truancy petition with the Superior Court if the child has 7 truant days in a month, or 10 truant days during the school year. The school does this by sending a request to the District Attendance Office. The Attendance Office files the truancy petitions on behalf of schools.
What is expected of parents?
When your child is excused absent from school?
Parents/guardians must notify your child's school about your child's excused absence within two days of any absence. You may make this notification by telephone or in a written note. You must include the reason why your child is absent in your telephone call or note.
When your child does not go to school (is truant)?
Parents or guardians must expect and encourage their children to attend school. When parents/guardians fail to comply with the Compulsory Attendance law by allowing or encouraging their children to stay home or skip school, the parents/guardians may also be subject to a truancy petition filed with Superior Court. Parents/guardians may be fined up to $25.00 per day for each day of their child's unexcused absences if it can be shown that the parent's/guardian's behavior is the primary reason the child is not attending school. This is particularly true for elementary students who might not be expected to get up and out the door to school on time without parental help. Additional sanctions imposed by the Court on parents/guardians who are found to be the cause of their children's truancy might include community service.
If you have already told your child that you expect him/her to go to school, but he/she refuses to do this, there are several things you can explore to determine if there is a reason for your child's refusal to attend school.
- Consider whether your child is afraid to attend school or is being bullied at school. Notify the school if this is so, to allow staff to take appropriate actions to make school a safe place for your child.
- Consider whether your child is progressing normally in an academic setting or could use tutoring or an alternative setting to learn. Students who are falling behind academically may feel uncomfortable about their school experience and try to avoid it by skipping classes. Talk with your child's teachers and other school staff to determine ways to help your child feel good about what and how he/she is learning.
- Consider whether medical, mental, or emotional issues are preventing your child from being able to attend school. It may be appropriate to take your child to get a physical or counseling.
- Consider whether your child's behavior suggests he/she is abusing drugs or alcohol, or even using tobacco. If so, seek help from an approved substance abuse provider to work with your child.
- Consider whether your child's friends and peers are exerting negative influences on his/her behavior, and work with your child to make choices in his/her behavior and friends that are consistent with your family values.
- Consider whether your child gets enough sleep and adequate nutrition. If he/she is staying out late on school nights or staying up late to play video games, adjust your child's bedtime schedule so he/she gets adequate sleep each night and gets up in time to have breakfast. You many need to take away your child's phone each night to ensure that it is not being used when he/she should be sleeping.
What absences can be excused?
When your child's personal illness or injury, or the illness, injury or death of a family member, prevents your child from attending school, and you notify the school within 48 hours of the absence. Some schools require that you notify them in writing about your child's absence The school may require a note from your child's doctor if your child is absent due to illness or injury for an excessive number of days (10 or more in the quarter) before excusing those absences.
When you submit a request to the principal or assistant principal at least three school days before the start of the planned absence, usually for a doctor or dentist appointment, religious holiday, an educational activity, or other special one-time event of a day or two. The school may require your child to complete missed assignments and/or make other academic arrangements in lieu of missed work. Family vacations of any duration may not be considered excused absences. The school principal has the final say on whether your planned absence will be excused.
Absences due to disciplinary actions such as suspensions of your child are excused on District attendance records.
What absences are unexcused?
All other absences are considered unexcused, including absences caused by the student or parent oversleeping, student missing the bus, transportation problems, student needed for babysitting, not attending while on a wait list for another school assignment, student or parent conflicts with school staff, student job requirements, religious instruction, etc.
Absences by long-term suspended and expelled students for whom space is available in a reentry program, but who do not enroll and attend, are unexcused.
Any absence, whether planned or unplanned, will remain unexcused when the parent does not provide either a telephoned or written excuse within a reasonable time after the date of the absence. A parent's request to "excuse my child's absence" without a stated reason or with a reason that does not meet the criteria for excused absences will result in the child's absence remaining unexcused.
Are my child's absences excused if my family has a vacation planned or goes out of town for a short time?
Vacations and trips are not excused when school is in session. Families should plan vacations and family travel for times when schools are not in session. Extra days before or after school holidays are not excused, including trips out of state or out of the country.
Only trips with an educational focus for the student as the purpose of the trip, i.e., attending or participating in a youth conference, visiting colleges, etc., can be excused, with the permission of the school principal or designee. Some secondary schools allow students to be absent to act as youth counselors at elementary science or outdoor education camps, but may limit how many times a student may do this and have the absences be excused.
What if there is a family emergency and I cannot get my child to school?
Student absences for the convenience of the parent are not excused. If the family emergency does not involve your child specifically, you should make arrangements with a friend, relative, or daycare for your child to attend school. If your employment requires that you make business trips out of town for one or more days you need to find a daycare, relative, or friend where your child can stay and still get to school.
If the emergency is illness or injury of the parent or a sibling, such that the healthy or uninjured student cannot get to school, the student's absence is excused. Absences of secondary-age students who are kept home to babysit younger non-school-age siblings while a parent takes an injured sibling for care are excused. However, general babysitting of siblings for non-emergencies is not excused.
Up to five days of a trip to attend a funeral for a family member may be excused, even if the funeral is held in another state or outside of the U.S. Longer trips for this purpose will need good reason to obtain permission of the school principal to be excused.
What happens if my child is tardy to class or is late arriving at school?
Secondary students who often are tardy to classes may lose credit for those classes when they are late or be marked as absent if they arrive more than 10 minutes late. While a truancy petition for a secondary student will not be filed solely on the basis of tardiness to class, information about tardies and skips is included in the attendance information accompanying a truancy petition filed for truant days.
Elementary students who are late to school repeatedly usually miss core academic instruction in reading, math, social studies and/or science. The Attendance Office and Juvenile Court staff believe that late arrivals interfere with core academic instruction. More than 10 late arrivals causing the student to miss more than 15 minutes of core instruction or more than 20 excused absences without a note from a doctor are reasons to file a truancy petition for an elementary student regardless how many unexcused absences are on the student's attendance record. Parents of students who are ages 6-9 will be named on the truancy petition since it is unlikely that a student that age has total control over whether he/she gets to school on time.
Are absences excused if my family is experiencing homeless?
Students whose families are homeless are still expected to attend school regularly and arrive on time. In some cases, absences and tardies may be excused:
- The family has just moved and transportation has not been set up by the district to the new address.
- The student was ready to go, but transportation set up by the District did not arrive at the correct address.
- The district-provided transportation did not pick up the student on time or arrive at school on time.
Otherwise, family transportation problems are not excused absences or excused lates.
What is a "Truant Day"?
A student is considered to be truant if he/she is absent from any class without a valid excuse or arrives late to class after the school's attendance rules call the lateness truant. A truant day is when a student is absent without a valid excuse from classes for more than half of a school day. The missed periods do not have to be consecutive.
The District is required to file a truancy petition against a student when the student has seven truant days in a calendar month or ten cumulative truant days in a school year.
What is a Student Attendance Agreement?
A Student Attendance Agreement (SAA) is a document completed during a conference with the student's parent or guardian, the student, and a school staff person. It addresses reasons why the student is not attending school regularly, and makes a plan between the parent, student, and school for improving the student's attendance. The form allows the school to list interventions they have tried to help the student improve his or her attendance.
Usually the parent/guardian receives a letter in the mail inviting him or her to attend this conference, although the invitation could come by telephone or verbally when the parent/guardian comes to the school for another reason. Even though the school will set a date for the conference, the parent may ask for a different, more convenient, date or ask to hold the conference over the phone. If the conference is held over the phone or just with the student, a copy of the SAA will be sent to the parent/guardian.
What is the process for filing a truancy petition in Juvenile Court?
The Compulsory Attendance law requires that the school district file petitions with the Juvenile Court for all students who have seven (7) or more unexcused absences in a month or ten (10) or more unexcused absences in a school year. The petition asks that the court compel the child to attend school.
If a petition has been filed, the court may "stay" (delay) the date for a hearing so there is time for you and your child to attend a Truancy Workshop as a diversion activity in lieu of going to court. If after attending the workshop your child returns to attending school regularly, the district may dismiss the truancy petition before ever asking for a date for a preliminary truancy hearing in Juvenile Court. If your child continues to be truant after attending a workshop, the district will ask the court to schedule a preliminary hearing. For the preliminary hearing, you will represent your child. The district will be assisted by an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney. In the preliminary hearing the court will listen to the student and the district to determine whether adequate efforts have been made by the school to change the student's truant behavior. If adequate efforts have been made, the court will order the student to attend school.
Once a court hearing occurs and a court order is issued to a child and/or parent/guardian, the District is required to report additional unexcused absences to the court. The court may hold another hearing ("show cause" hearing) to determine if you or your child has willfully violated the court's order that your child attend school. If it is determined that you and/or your child have violated the court's order to attend school, yet another hearing ("contempt of court" hearing) will be set up for dealing with a violation of the court's order. At that time, your child may be given an additional action requirement to "purge" the contempt order. You may also be charged up to $25/day for each day your child does not attend school if it is determined that you are causing your child not to attend.
The court may take whatever steps are necessary to insure regular school attendance by the child. These steps may include, but are not limited to, issuing a court order, ordering community service, ordering a child to get treatment or counseling, such as for drug/alcohol abuse, or combining the truancy petition with an At Risk Youth (AYR) petition.
What Other Information is available for parents?
The key to any/all court action hinges on your child's attendance. Your participation is necessary for addressing your child's truant behavior. Please allow staff to assist you in improving your child's attendance. They are a team dedicated to improving your child's educational success.
Please reply to any school notification in a prompt manner. Students in secondary education programs may lose credit in their classes after as few as 10 absences, whether excused or unexcused. By prompt intervention when the school notifies you about absences from class, you will support your child's educational success.
If you have questions about your child's attendance record, or are in need of a report on your child's educational progress, please call your child's school. See the links on the menu at the right side of page for additional information.
What are Truancy Workshops?
Truancy Workshops are a diversion activity allowed by the Court before and after a truancy petition has been filed. Diversion is in lieu of attending a preliminary truancy hearing in Juvenile Court. After a truancy petition is filed in Juvenile Court on a student, both students and their parents/guardians are invited to attend a workshop on a specific date.
Workshops are held once a week during the school year at the John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave S., Seattle, WA 98134, usually (but not always) on Thursday afternoons after school from 3:30-5 p.m. Workshops for parents of elementary students do not start until 4:00 p.m., but are held at the same location.
Students and parents/guardians will learn about Washington state law regarding attending school and some of the costs of dropping out of school. Students will meet separately with Attendance Office staff to determine steps the student can take to improve his/her attendance, get to school on time, and make up missing school work. Parents will meet in a group with a drug/alcohol counselor or Attendance Office staff to discuss issues they are facing with getting their children to attend school regularly. At the end, the student and parent are asked to sign an attendance agreement based on the discussion held with the district staff.
If after attending a Truancy Workshop and signing an agreement, the student returns to school and is no longer truant, the truancy petition will be dismissed. However, if the student continues to be truant or continues to have too many excused absences, the Attendance Office will ask Juvenile Court to set a date for a preliminary truancy hearing at the King County Juvenile Court, temporarily held at the King County Courthouse on 3rd Avenue in downtown Seattle.