School attendance leads to lifelong success

Truancy laws enforced by local magistrate

We know that attendance in school is one of the biggest determining factors in a student’s success. When a student is absent, not only might the student miss a key element in a math algorithm or science experiment, but he or she may also miss the camaraderie at lunch or recess and the latest jokes told by his or her favorite teacher. Each day a student misses school is a day of experiences he or she can never get back.

The large majority of students come to school as they should. A good rule of thumb would be to keep a student home if he or she has a fever, is vomiting, or has diarrhea. If your child complains of a belly ache or headache, please send the child to school. Often that ailment goes away by the time he or she walks in the school doors. In Mifflin County, the majority of students miss fewer than seven school days per year.

Lawful absences include illness, doctor’s appointments, funerals and pre-approved educational field trips. Truancy comes into play when a student accumulates unexcused absences. Unexcused absences occur when a student does not turn in an excuse within three school days of the absence. Unexcused absences also include vacations that were not pre-approved as educational trips, improperly written excuses, oversleeping, missing the bus, car problems and any reasons not covered under Act 138 of 2016. If you are not certain whether an absence would be excused, please contact your school administrator.

Unfortunately, there are issues with habitual school truancy which require the laws of compulsory education to come into effect. In 2016, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted Act 138. Act 138 deals specifically with school truancy. Under Act 138, specific steps have been laid out that school truancy officers must adhere to. Ultimately, the goal is to help improve the child’s attendance in school. In many cases, citations through our local district magistrates have been eliminated due to the steps school officials have taken under Act 138.

In the Mifflin County School District, after a student receives his or her third unexcused absence, a letter is sent to the parent/guardian. This is simply a notification that the child cannot miss any further unlawful days without repercussions. If a fourth unlawful absence occurs, the truancy officer (most likely the assistant principal) will issue an invitation to attend a School Attendance Improvement Conference. At this time, the parent/guardian, student, truancy officer, guidance counselor, and/or teachers will meet to develop a plan to eliminate further unlawful absences. When this plan is successful, no further actions occur.

Students who have six or more unexcused absences in a school year are considered “habitually truant.” Under Act 138, habitually truant students under the age of 15 must be referred to an outside agency which specializes in helping families deal with truancy. In Mifflin County, that agency is Raystown Developmental Services (RDS.) This agency works in conjunction with Mifflin County Children and Youth Services (CYS). The next step is a meeting including everyone who may have been at the School Attendance Improvement Conference plus a representative from RDS and CYS. The goal is to support the family to help the student eliminate the truancy issues.

Act 138 clearly defines the consequences for habitually truant students under the age of 15 who do not successfully complete the requirements of the truancy elimination plan. Act 138 also clearly defines the consequences for those students who are 15 years and older. Those consequences are enforced by our local district magistrates.

The goal of the Mifflin County School District is to help our students understand that attendance is not only a critical component of success at school, but it also is a major factor in success as an adult in the workforce. Setting good attendance habits as a student transfers to good attendance as an employed adult. If you would like further information about attendance or Act 138, contact your school’s administrator, who will be more than happy to discuss it with you.

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Diane Stewart is the assistant principal and East Derry Elementary School and Indian Valley Elementary School.