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, appropriate, 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...