I need information about compulsory school attendance laws and students with special education needs. I have a student with a sleep disorder and emotional issues. How do the compulsory attendance laws and the student’s needs intertwine?
Good question. All states have compulsory attendance laws. I am not aware of exceptions for children with disabilities, but suggest you contact your State Department of Education to find out if your state has exceptions.
Are the sleep issues a recent problem? What do the parents say? Is the child’s doctor aware of the frequent absences and the impact they are having on his education?
In some cases, the child’s doctor may ask that the child receive special treatment for a specific period of time – for example, when the doctor is trying different medications and the child’s sleep is disrupted.
In other cases, schools let these kids slide which does not help. Kids with emotional and behavioral problems are at very high risk for dropping out. If a child doesn’t attend school regularly, he cannot learn what he needs to know to handle life after school.
The fact that the child is often absent triggers responsibilities for the IEP team.
- The IEP team is required to review and revise an IEP “to address any lack of expected progress” and “other matters.” A child with a sleep disorder who often misses school is probably not making expected progress, so it’s time to revisit the IEP.
- The IEP team is also required to consider providing related services for “a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning … positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies to address that behavior.” Clearly, this child’s behavior is impeding his learning. The IEP team needs to meet to devise new interventions, supports and strategies to address the behavior.
If the child is not attending school because of depression and other emotional issues, the IEP team needs to meet and decide how to modify or revise the IEP. The team needs to be creative and involve the child’s doctor and therapist, parent(s), and the child, if possible. The child may need related services including counseling or other assistance.
Normal Adolescent Sleep Patterns
As a group, adolescents are notoriously difficult to awaken in the mornings. In most cases, this is not due to laziness or depression, but is simply part of normal human development. During adolescence, circadian clocks are geared to late night behavior. Boys tend to grow out of this around age 20, and girls a year earlier.
For these reasons, experts in neurology and chronobiology make a good case for opening high schools later and experimenting with timing of the curriculum and exams. This could lead to a better match between the requirements of the educational system and the capabilities of students. (For more about biological clocks and sleep rhythms, read Larks, Owls and Hummingbirds by Leon Kreitzman, co-author of Rhythms of Life with Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford.)
Compulsory Attendance Laws and Truancy
If the school labels the child as truant under compulsory attendance laws, problems caused by developmental or emotional issues turn into legal problems. If the child is judged “truant,” it is unlikely that anything positive will happen, and more likely that the child will drop out of school.
The question about whether to use compulsory attendance laws also depends on how the juvenile justice system in your area views kids with emotional and behavior problems. Some juvenile judges are staunch advocates for children and want to help. Others blame the kid for emotional problems — not helpful.
Thanks for caring about the kids!