Attendance Policy and Truancy Procedures of an Online School
Bender, Stacy A., Distance Learning
The definition of truancy at an online school does not mirror the definition of truancy at a traditional school. At the traditional school, students arrive at school or do not arrive at school, sit in classes or do not sit in classes, and either attend school or are considered truant if their lack of attendance does not fit into the excused categories provided by the laws of the students' states of residence. Attendance is considered physically sitting in a seat for the determined number of minutes or hours that the school holds academic programming. State legislators have written truancy laws with traditional schools in mind; however, students attending online schools must adhere to these laws as well. This article will examine how these laws apply to online students and the role of online schools in the enforcement of these laws. In addition, this article will advocate for online schools to take the lead in providing a clear definition of attendance as well as to cooperate and to collaborate with state departments that oversee truancy enforcement. One should note that the information in this article illustrates these concepts using Minnesota truancy laws and the policies and procedures of Wolf Creek Online High School, an ordine hybrid charter high school in Minnesota.
TRUANCY LAWS AND ONLINE STUDENTS
Truancy laws and definitions differ in each state. In Minnesota, Statutes 120A.22 and 260A require that, once they enroll in school or by age 7, children must attend school every hour of every day through the age of 18 unless they are formally withdrawn with parental consent after age 16. The law grants schools the ability to define what is considered an excused absence and what is considered an unexcused absence. The letter of the law in Minnesota allows for an absence to be one period of one day (but not seven periods in the same day). Each of the 87 counties in Minnesota differ in their execution of these statutes; some place students on probation while others provide social service supports in order to assist the students in reestablishing acceptable attendance. Regardless, responsibility for the initial reporting of truant students falls on the schools that the students attend. Once students accrue seven unexcused absences or more, their schools must file truancy petitions in the students' counties of residence. This action forces the schools, the county representatives, and the families of truant students to become connected in a web meant to support students' improved attendance at school. Whether they are public school students, nonpublic school students, or homeschooled students, the statutes are clear that all students must comply with the compulsory instruction laws.
Over the course of the past 5 years, Wolf Creek Online High School's school board has wrestled with creating a definition of attendance that will translate into understandable terms for those in the various state departments who enforce the statutes. In the traditional setting, there is no need for schools to create a definition of attendance because students either attend school or not. If the students do not physically enter the school building and attend classes, the students are not attending and may be subject to truancy proceedings. Even if the students sleep through the entire day at school, turn in no work, and accrue no credits toward graduation, traditional schools consider those students to be in attendance by virtue of being there. This differs from the online setting. Because students at Wolf Creek work from a distance for a minimum of 3 days each week, their physical presence in a building does not occur on those days. This obstacle required that the school board and staff think creatively in order to construct a method by which attendance could be tracked and then translated into hours and days in order to communicate in the common terms of those who enforce the statutes. Although the Wolf Creek policy is recognized by most county programs as worthy of modeling, each online school is unique and needs to create its own definition of attendance and truancy. …