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New Definitions of Excused/Unexcused Absences for the State

New definitions of excused and unexcused absences must be used by all Connecticut school districts after their adoption yesterday by the State Board of Education. The Board took this action after a lengthy discussion and approval of new guidelines for educator evaluations (read more about the teacher evaluation and support guidelines here.)

According to the new definitions, a student’s first nine absences can be excused by a note from a parent. Additional absences can be excused for the following reasons: student illness, religious holidays, a family member’s death or other emergency, mandated court appearance, lack of normally provided district transportation, and extraordinary educational opportunities pre-approved by district administrators.

The Board was required to adopt new definitions of excused and unexcused absences by July 1, 2012, under Public Act 11-136. The new definitions will allow the State Department of Education to provide appropriate support to all truant students and report consistent truancy data to the federal government.

According to the Connecticut Mirror,

State law requires that a list of interventions take place when a child has four unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a school year. If students lack reliable transportation, the district must resolve the problem. If they aren’t showing up because they are being bullied or because of another personal issue, it is the district’s responsibility to address the issue. If the child is skipping and nothing else is working, then they can face discipline measures through the courts.

But the problem is this: These interventions are guaranteed and triggered only when students reach that threshold of unexcused absences.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said, “The variance among definitions of absences at the district level has made it extremely difficult to create, and report on, reliable data on truancy, one of the Department’s statutory responsibilities.  [This] action will preserve local decision-making while ensuring that families with children at risk of truancy receive the supports they need in the most timely manner.”

A memo to the Board from Pryor states that “the impact on districts will largely depend on each district’s existing definitions of excused and unexcused absences and how closely they track to the policy that the State Board adopts. Districts that have a very permissive definition of excused absence may find that they have an increased number of students identified as truant and, subsequently, are required to perform outreach to a greater number of families. Other districts may actually find that their number of truants drop with the adoption of a state definition that is less strict than their current policy.”

Although districts must adopt the new definitions for state reporting purposes, local districts have the right to maintain their existing definitions for internal use. The State Department of Education plans to develop guidelines and best practices to share with districts for the implementation of the new definitions.

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