Truancy and the Special Education Student

By Lauren Wood, CFCC Student Fellow 2014-2015

Truancy is a dilemma frequently facing school systems. A violation of compulsory attendance requirements can, in the worst case, lead to significant punitive consequences for a family. What happens, however, when the student exhibiting truant tendencies is a special education student? What kind of special obligations, if any, does a school district have to a child with a disability?

In Maryland, there is a strong positive correlation between rates of habitual truancy and drop out rates and special education students. Baltimore City ranks among the highest in the State in those variables for which positive correlations with truancy were found. 1. There are many explanations for this positive correlation. First, the difficulties that special education students face in order to access the curriculum can make every day in school feel like a battle. Second, special education students are more susceptible to becoming victims of bullying, again deterring students from regularly coming to school. Third, the student’s disability may include an emotional disorder that results in inappropriate types of behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), each student is entitled to a free, appropriate, public education. Additionally, the Child Find requirements under IDEA require all school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all students who are suspected of having a disability. 34 CFR 300.111. Although lack of attendance on its own does not qualify a student for special education services, it is a factor to be taken into consideration. 34 CFR 300.8(a)(1). 2. Once a truant student is identified as having a disability, he/she is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in order to assure that the student is receiving free, public education.

One component of the IEP may include a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), a “collaborative, student-centered process for gathering information that reliably predicts the conditions and/or circumstances concerning why a student is exhibiting an inappropriate behavior,” in this case the inappropriate behavior being truancy. 3. Following the FBA is a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), which includes strategies such as positive behavior reinforcements, program modifications, and supplementary aids and services that can assist the student in overcoming habitual truancy. The BIP includes a plan to monitor the student’s progress to ensure that the student now is able to access the curriculum.

These programs are very helpful in addressing a special education student’s truancy issue head-on. Although there is still much work to do, these federally mandated obligations prevent hundreds of students annually from dropping out of school. It would be wonderful to find a way for similar programs to be available for students without disabilities but who have problems regularly attending.  But that is a conversation for another day…

6 thoughts on “Truancy and the Special Education Student

  1. Truancy among all students is a pressing issue in our educational system, but when a student is in need of special education, truancy can be even more detrimental to the student's potential success. As a member of the Truancy Court Program, I had to do some research on the demographics of certain Baltimore City Schools. In one of the schools, over 55% of special education students (that is students with an IEP) missed 20 or more days of school last year. While the IEP process tries to help these students reach their full potential at school, the process is not perfect. In most cases, the IEPs are not fully carried out. This is not because school administrators do not care, but rather because they lack the funding and the resources to be able to fully implement all of the IEPs in their schools. In the same school I mentioned above, about 80 students of their total 294 had IEPs. With about 30% of the school population needing additional resources, there is a huge burden on the schools and unfortunately they cannot afford all of the necessary services to meet each individual student's needs. The education system in this country costs over 600 billion dollars and it only seems to be increasing. While the federal government is trying to give all students “free and appropriate education,” funding is a huge problem. The current policies put in place are a good starting point to try and make sure every student comes to school, but without the ability to fully implement all necessary services for students, the truancy problem in our schools cannot be effectively dealt with. In addition to the policies already in place, all school districts should have the ability to start a Truancy Court Program that would be able to assess why students are not coming to school. However, that would have a huge financial burden on the already expensive education system. So for right now, the students in Baltimore City Schools should feel honored that they have the opportunity to try and turn their lives around by being a part of the Truancy Court Program.

  2. This is quite insightful! I believe that it is incredibly important to recognize all the factors that lead to truancy amongst the student in our public schools. I agree that the issues surrounding bullying and behavioral problems which can and do lead to truancy are in desperate need of examination and remedy. In 2009 at least 2 young boys at the age of 11 committed suicide because of the harassment they received as a result of the “presumptions” that they were homosexual. Imagine the number of children undergoing this harassment and ultimately choosing not to attend school as a result of it. This is troubling! Education is a precious right that should be harnessed by each child without the negative impacts of bullying and insecurities.

  3. As Sheena stated above, it is important to recognize all of the factors that lead to truancy in our school system. Sometimes the answer is as simple as the child doesn't have an alarm clock to wake up. However, sometimes the issues can be more complex. Through thorough interactions with students, it is important to continually assess the students in order to determine, for example, that the student might have a disability and need an IEP.

  4. While truancy continues to be an ever-growing problem within the school system, I feel that the solution in part lies within the parents and guardians of the students. Based on the fact that children spend most of their lives in school, it only seems fair that the school evaluate the children suspected of having disabilities because the teachers and faculty are more prone to noticing the disabilities. However, once the disabilities are diagnosed, it becomes the responsibility of the parent to have the disability treated. Unfortunately, there are many parents who choose not to have their child's disability treated, and even refuse to place their child in a special education program. This can often lead to the child becoming frustrated when trying to deal with school in general and ultimately lead to truancy. I applaud the school system for its constant dedication to ensuring that each child receives a free, appropriate, public education. However, the school system can only do so much without the help of the parents and guardians.

  5. This is definitely an interesting topic to write on. I agree with Tammy that mainstreaming children with specialized needs into a general education classroom is not necessarily a bad idea. However, what I don’t agree with is when a child or student with specialized needs just gets pushed through the system without actually having their issues addressed. What I mean by this is that, having been exposed to the educational systems in different counties, including Montgomery County and Baltimore City, I’ve seen that many children are just pushed along and are given passing grades without actually being provided with the services they need. What seems bothersome most of all, to me, is that this can start as early as late elementary school and middle school, so that the children end up in high school without ever having been given the services that they need. By that point, it is possible that many children feel that education is not important and find other things to do with their time. This is definitely a reason for truancy that I think can be addressed early on, but the issue is how to address it. I do believe that sometimes children are forgotten as the reason the educational system is in place and then feel that they are no longer important as well. But again, another issue for another day.

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