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Email: info@nheld.com

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Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director



Bulletin #72     Truancy Bill     10/06/09


Did you know that proposed legislation introduces a national definition of truancy that will affect those enrolled in public schools, and potentially those enrolled in private or home schools?


The bill is Senate bill 1708, entitled, “School Attendance Success Act of 2009”.  http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:S.1708:


It was proposed by Senator Amy Kloubucher of Minnesota and currently has one co-sponsor, Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina.  The stated purpose of the bill is “to establish a grant program to prevent truancy, and for other purposes.”


The bill authorizes federal tax dollars to be awarded to state educational agencies as grants purportedly to implement programs to prevent truancy.  Some of the tax dollars would be funneled through the local educational agency to community action organizations.  The bill says that the local educational agency is to use the tax dollars “to partner with a community-based organization to create programmatic initiatives aimed at keeping students in school.”  There are no specifics in the bill defining what those “programmatic initiatives” would be.  Also, there are not specifics about the amount of tax dollars will be appropriated for those “programmatic initiatives”.


Section 5 of the bill is even more troublesome.  Its title is “National Definition of Truancy.”   Apparently, the proponents of this bill seek to define truancy in a very limited fashion in order to carry out the purposes of this bill, despite the fact that truancy currently is defined in state law, and each state defines the term in its own unique way. This particular bill, which imposes a national definition of truancy, defines that term as follows:


                                                                                                For the purposes of collecting the information described in subparagraph (B)(i), the term `truancy' means each absence of a student who is required by State law to attend elementary school or secondary school from such school for the time period described in clause (ii) without an excuse described in clause (iii).


                                                                                                `(ii) TIME PERIOD- The time period referred to in clause (i) is--


                                                                                                                        `(I) 3 consecutive school days in the case of a child enrolled in elementary school; and


                                                                                                                        `(II) 3 or more class periods on each of 3 consecutive school days in the case of a child enrolled in middle or secondary school.


                                                                                                `(iii) EXCUSED ABSENCES- An excuse referred to in clause (i) is--


                                                                                                                        `(I) an excuse by a parent of the student that is approved by the school administrator in charge; or


`(II) permission from a teacher or administrator in charge.”


Is that definition identical to the definition of truancy in your state?  If not, it is possible that one could argue that a national definition of truancy conflicts with any state’s definition of truancy such that the state’s definition of truancy becomes null and void. How will that affect parents whose children are enrolled in public schools?  While the bill indicates that the funding will go to “local educational agencies”, how does your state define “local educational agencies”?  One would assume that the bill only applies to public school districts, but, assumptions are useless when an issue is brought before a judge for “interpretation”.  Are private schools going to be considered “local educational agencies” for the purposes of truancy?  Many states consider children who attend private schools as subject to their state’s truancy laws.  If those private schools accept a grant under this proposal, should it become law, will private school students be subject to the “national definition of truancy”?  What about the parents who homeschool their children in those states in which homeschooled students are considered “private school” students?  Will this proposal, should it become law, affect them?  The answer is, it is possible that those students would be affected.  This bill does not contain language that states directly that homeschooled students would be subject to the national definition of truancy, but, one day, the issue may go before a judge to decide.


Luckily, so far, this bill has only one proponent and one co-sponsor.  It has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.  It does not appear to be a hot button issue that would require urgent action.  That does not mean, however, that one should dismiss the bill.  The rules in Washington appear to be extremely flexible.  If the leadership wants a bill to be adopted, they will find a way to make it happen.  All eyes should be on what Congress is doing at all times.  With any amount of luck, this particular bill will wither on the vine, as most bills do.  It bears watching, and it would be helpful to begin a dialogue with your Congressmen as to why they should vote against it, should it every come up for a vote.




Attorney Deborah Stevenson - Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense – email : info@nheld.com

Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – imjfaron@sbcglobal.net