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Attending to the Implications of the New Truancy Law: Policy Compliance

PDE recently issued Penn*Link guidance to clarify various aspects of Pennsylvania’s new truancy law, Act 138 of 2016 (“Act 138 Penn*Link).  It appears the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) views Act 138 to affect the obligations of charter and cyber schools relative only to their obligations to track and report attendance data directly to PDE, not altering districts’ obligations to enforce student attendance. Because there is no reference to “enforcement” in the Section of Act 138 specific to charter and cyber school obligations, Act 138 increases the obligations of these entities in their policy, reporting, and hearing attendance duties, and can be interpreted to require charter and cyber schools to enforce attendance. In particular, Act 138 specifies the appropriate venue (court) in which a truancy citation must be filed for a cyber or charter school student, thus leaning towards the interpretation that such obligation to file is now that of cyber or charter schools.  Organizations such as the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) have taken steps to reach out to PDE to better understand PDE’s stance on truancy enforcement and possibly influence PDE to reconsider its own position on the same, such that Act 138 requires cyber and charter schools to enforce truancy as the alternative way to interpret the truancy law.

Furthermore, despite the fact that PDE has yet to issue an updated Basic Education Circular (BEC) (which the Act 138 Penn*Link says PDE will soon release), it is time for districts to consider the changes that current policies, procedures, and notification venues (such as websites) must undergo to accurately reflect Act 138 in practice.  Ideally, the BEC should be issued prior to any policy changes to better understand PDE’s expectations in implementing this new truancy law with such broad policy-change implications.  However, as districts are well-aware, with the dawn of spring on the horizon, the publication and distribution of policies and handbooks for school year 2017-2018 will be taking place before we know it.  That said, and in light of PSBA’s goal to publish its model policy in late March / early April, the Stock and Leader School Law Group is advising districts to begin the process of policy revision relative to Act 183.  In practice, districts should pull for review and edit the following policies and their associated administrative regulations: Special Education, Nondiscrimination for Qualified Students with Disabilities, Homeless Students, Student Assistance Program, Homebound Instruction and Temporary Medical Excusal, and Withdrawal from School.  As districts engage in this process, they should be cognizant of how the differences in the rights of and procedures for truant students fourteen (14) years of age and younger in comparison with the rights of and procedures for truant students fifteen (15) and sixteen (16) years of age, establishes a variance in the information to be published in Student Handbooks and on websites associated with elementary, middle and high schools.

This blog is intended to be a reminder that your partner in education, the Stock and Leader School Law Group, is always primed to assist you in crafting district-specific solutions and being proactive in addressing the needs of the students you educate.  Please contact the School Law group if you would like assistance in an efficient review and revision of policies and procedures implicated by the new truancy law, Act 138.

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