Consider disability-related causes for absenteeism, truancy

Intervene with students who are frequently absent or truant 'early and often,' attorney says
By: | April 12, 2021

Attendance-related interventions to address potential child find and free appropriate public education issues are especially important during periods of remote and hybrid learning, according to Teri Engler, an attorney at Engler Callaway Baasten & Sraga LLC in Illinois.

Engler recently presented the LRP webinar, Absenteeism and Truancy During Remote and Hybrid Learning: Addressing Child Find and FAPE Issues.

Citing case law, she discussed how hearing officers and courts addressed child find and FAPE issues arising from truancy and absenteeism.

The key takeaway, she said, is to intervene with students who are frequently absent or truant, “early and often.”

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“In addition to following your state and district procedures for addressing excessive absences — through proactive attempts to engage the student and family and encourage and support attendance — look carefully into the possibility of disability-related reasons,” said Engler. She added that, depending on the situation, this might include steps such as:

  1. Convening the building problem-solving team to review the student’s past and present academic and functional performance and developing an informal intervention plan.
  2. Evaluating or reevaluating the student; o
  3. Convening the IEP team to develop an intervention plan or other programmatic supports, then monitoring closely to determine their effectiveness. For example, she noted that in A.W. v Middletown Area School District a failure to timely intervene contributed to a student’s continued and increasing nonattendance.

Engler recommended documenting all intervention efforts and the parents’ and student’s responses, keeping in mind that a lack of engagement or cooperation will not necessarily absolve the district of its child find or FAPE responsibilities in any given case.

She offered several other practical tips. Find them below and share with your colleagues.

How to head off potential child find issues:

  • Closely monitor student absences and hospitalizations; they may be “child find” triggers.
  • Be proactive in providing interventions to students with excessive absences from, or tardiness to, school and have a schedule for monitoring the effectiveness of those interventions.
  • Request the parents’ written consent to exchange information with private service providers, if any.
  • Schedule a problem-solving or IEP meeting (as soon as possible) to review reports, letters, scripts, progress notes, or discharge summaries from private service providers.
  • Thoroughly conduct evaluations or reevaluations — this may include proposing “atypical” evaluations.
  • Consider the need to reevaluate a student sooner than the triennial reevaluation date if needs change or up-to-date data or other relevant information is needed to address a decline in or lack of progress.

For attendance issues during remote and hybrid instruction:

  • Determine and address any barriers to student engagement in remote learning even if they are not disability-based.
  • Convene an IEP team meeting to discuss needed supports or service delivery changes to facilitate student engagement in remote learning that complies with COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols.
  • Document all efforts to address student absences and provide special education and related services.
  • Consider whether compensatory education services may be warranted.

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for LRP Publications.