What is a “Truant”?

The Hartford Courant has been running a series of articles highlighting the issue of truancy in public schools. Indeed, “[a] recent study found that 48 percent of New Britain High School students are chronically absent;”[1] the proportion of truants for the kindergarten population is a staggering 29 percent.[2] Unfortunately, chronic absence by schoolchildren is a problem faced nationwide, and a recent study by Johns Hopkins University researchers shows that “[u]p to 15 percent of American children are chronically absent from school, missing at least one day in 10 and doing long-term harm to their academic progress.”[3]

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 10-198a, a “truant” is defined as any child, ages five to eighteen, “who is enrolled in a public or private school and has four unexcused absences from school in any one month or ten unexcused absences from school in any school year.” A “habitual truant” has twenty or more unexcused absences. Connecticut General Statutes § 10-200.

Last year, the Connecticut legislature enacted Public Act No. 11-136, which revises several education-related statutes. In part, it tasked the State Board of Education (SBE) to streamline measures taken by school districts in assessing, reporting, and combating truancy. By July 1, 2012, the SBE was required to adopt “uniform definitions of excused and unexcused absences” to assist school districts in identifying truant students.

Excused Absences in School

On June 27, 2012, the SBE adopted definitions of excused, unexcused, and disciplinary absences, which would apply to §§ 10-198a and 10-220 (which explains the purpose of reporting truancy). SBE policy states, “A student is considered to be ‘in attendance’ if present at his/her assigned school, or an activity sponsored by the school (e.g. field trip), for at least half of the regular school day.” Thus, a student is “absent” when they are not “in attendance.”[4]

If the student’s absence is the first through ninth, to be excused it requires production of written documentation evidencing parent/guardian approval. Thereafter, an absence will be excused for the following reasons only:

  1. Student illness (verified by licensed medical professional)
  2. Student observance of a religious holiday
  3. Death in the student’s family, or other emergencies beyond their control
  4. Mandated court appearances (requires supporting documentation)
  5. Lack of transportation typically provided by a district other than that which the student attends. This requires no parental documentation.
  6. “Extraordinary educational opportunities pre-approved by district administrators and in accordance with Connecticut State Department of Education guidance.”

Absences that result from disciplinary actions (such as suspensions and expulsions) are excluded from these definitions. An unexcused absence is any that is neither excused nor disciplinary.[5]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding truancy, school discipline, or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at Maya Murphy, P.C. in Westport, CT at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

[1] “New Britain Schools Chief Wants Truants Fined,” by Associated Press. August 20, 2012: http://www.courant.com/community/new-britain/hc-ap-new-britain-fining-truants-0821-20120820,0,5583913.story

[2] “New Britain Schools Targeting Kindergarten Truants,” by the Associated Press. September 10, 2012: http://www.courant.com/community/new-britain/hc-new-britain-kindergarten-truants-0911-20120910,0,6088612.story

[3] “ ‘Chronically Absent’ Students Skew School Data, Study Finds, Citing Parents’ Role,” by Richard Pérez-Peña. May 17, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/17/education/up-to-15-percent-of-students-chronically-skip-school-johns-hopkins-finds.html

[4] “Definitions of Excused and Unexcused Absences,” by the Connecticut State Board of Education. June 27, 2012: www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/pressroom/definition_excused_unexcused_absences.pdf

[5] Id.