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The Connecticut State Board of Education Adopts Long Awaited Definitions of Excused and Unexcused Student Absences for Truancy Reporting Purposes

On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, the Connecticut State Board of Education (CSBOE) adopted long awaited definitions of excused and unexcused student absences as required under Public Act 11-136, An Act Concerning Minor Revisions to the Education Statutes. The new definitions promise to promote consistency and reliability in the state’s data collection and reporting related to student attendance. The new definitions are to be used by school districts to determine which students qualify as truant for state reporting purposes; however, school districts retain the right to maintain their existing definitions for internal purposes such as promotion and grading. The current definition of truant and school district reporting requirements under the Families with Service Needs statute remain unchanged; a truant is a student who has four unexcused absences in a month or ten unexcused absences in a school year.

Under CSBOE policy, a student is “in attendance” if present at his/her assigned school or an activity sponsored by the school, for a least half of the regular school day. A student who does not meet the definition of “in attendance” is absent. Under the newly adopted definition of an excused absence, student absences one through nine in a given school year are excused under the following circumstances: 1) the student’s parent/guardian approves such absence and submits appropriate written documentation within ten school days of the student’s return to school. Such documentation must be submitted for each incidence of absenteeism and include either a signed note from a student’s parent or guardian explaining the nature of and reason for the absence and the length of the absence, 2) a signed note from a school official that spoke in person with a parent/guardian about the absence or 3) a note confirming the absence by the school nurse or by a licensed medical professional.

For a student’s tenth absence and all absences over ten in a given school year, an absence will be excused for the following reasons: for illness (only with documentation from a licensed medical professional for each day of absence), for observance of a religious holiday, death in the student’s family or other emergency beyond the control of the student’s family, mandated court appearances (with written documentation), extraordinary educational opportunities (pre-approved by school administration in accordance with CSBOE guidance) and in the event of lack of transportation that is normally provided by a district other than the one the student attends.

An unexcused absence is any absence that does not fit within the definition of an excused absence or meets the definition, but fails to meet the documentation requirements, or meets the definition of a disciplinary absence.

The CSBOE has specifically excluded from the new definitions absences that are a result of school or district disciplinary action. Seemingly contradictory, the CSBOE also states that a student who is serving an out-of -school suspension or expulsion should always be considered absent.

To provide further guidance to school districts, the CSDOE is currently developing guidance documentation that promises to provide practical advice for implementation and to also clarify any remaining questions.