Know Your Rights – Truancy Law

In 2019, the Legislature changed the course of truancy intervention in Washington state. Senate Bill 5290 discontinued the use of detention as a response to students who are having attendance struggles.  The new law went into effect this school year (2021/2022 school year).  From now on, when schools and courts are addressing the needs of students who are absent from school, the student does not risk incarceration as a consequence of missing school. Washington state was one of the last states to discontinue the use of detention in truancy matters, but we are on the right track now to focus on student engagement and student need when there are absences from school. 

The Legislature took additional steps in 2021 to encourage best practices in responding to attendance issues with student.  House Bill 1113 created a requirement that every school district develop, either on their own, or with other Districts, Community Engagement Boards. These teams are designed to support students and their families to address the underlying issues that are affecting the student’s attendance. There is a strong push to develop supports and systems to help students without having to file in the court system, knowing that the court system has never been an effective response to student attendance.  The new way of intervening is with “multitiered systems of support,” which means a system that provides timely interventions and best practices to address barriers to attendance and monitor daily attendance for all students.  Schools are directed to create a way to contact families and verify current contact info for all families and to make multiple attempts to contact families in multiple ways (phone, text, email, etc.) in the parent’s home language.  Schools are asked to have tiered intervention for students at risk of and experiencing chronic absences to connect the student and family with community resources, community engagement boards and other community partners.    

The new law also changes the timelines for when schools have to file truancy petitions in court. (Now the District must file after 7 unexcused absences in a month of 15 unexcused absences in a school year, except for students 6 and 7 years old).  Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has been tasked with developing best practice guidance to reduce student absences. reduce student absences and to otherwise implement compulsory school attendance laws. The guidance must focus on student and family engagement, be based in restorative justice practices, and emphasize integration of student and family support system. 

TeamChild has been sharing updates about the truancy changes in the community this month.  Karen Pillar and Dan Ophardt worked with parents from the South King County Discipline Coalition (SKCDC) to present the impact truancy laws have had on families and students at the annual BECCA conference. (Truancy law is also known as the “Becca Bill,” named after Rebecca Hedman). Karen Pillar and Grace Kimm are also working with the SKCDC to make sure parents understand the new changes in a parent training happening this month.  Sara Zier and Kim Williams are presenting updates on the BECCA law this month during a training for special education attorneys. 

See a chart from (OSPI) that lays out interventions for students as the number of absences grows. 

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