When Schools Punish Sick Children Who Miss School: A Game Plan

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(Moved from Community Helpline)

My child has an IEP. She has chronic health problems documented by three medical specialists and she has a Health Plan. Chronic health problems and medical appointments forced her to miss many school days this year. She made up all her work and has no incomplete assignments. Her grades are A’s and B’s.

The school told her that if she doesn’t make up the time she missed, she will not get credit for these classes. Can they do that? She would gladly give up her sick days for school days.

The purpose of laws that require children to attend a certain number of school days is to deter truancy. A law that is intended to deter truancy must include exemptions for children who have chronic illnesses or who are injured, not truant. Your child passed her classes with flying colors but the school is threatening to withhold credit for these classes because she was ill and unable to attend school.

Public schools are required by law to accommodate the health needs of students. The plan to accommodate health needs may be called a health plan or a 504 plan. Your child has a health plan but the school is not following it.

Call your State Department of Education. (You will find contact information for your state in the Directory of State Education Departments) Ask about your state’s attendance requirements and exemptions for children who have documented illnesses and health plans. Please let us know what you learn.

I spoke with the state department of education about the school’s punishment of my child for truancy when she has a chronic illness. Because the chronic health issues are noted in her IEP, and because her IEP states she will need special accommodations, her absences are excused. The representative thought our district is just not familiar with the laws that protect students with chronic illnesses.

Thanks for letting us know that you were able to resolve this problem. In our opinion, the school should give your daughter an award for courage and perseverance, despite the obstacles she faced.

For readers who have sick children, the American Diabetes Association has prepared excellent model 504 plans and health plans. These model plans can be modified to cover other health or medical problems that affect a child’s school performance. Download the model plan and revise it so it describes your child’s medical condition and needs related to that condition. Consult with your child’s doctor to make sure the plan is complete and covers all your child’s health needs.

To learn more about helping children with chronic illnesses, read My Child Has Health Problems, the School Reports Him Truant by Suzanne Whitney. Sue writes about creative advocacy strategies in Doing Your Homework. Review the legal and advocacy information and resources from the American Diabetes Society. This information is useful in advocating for children with other health problems.

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247 Comments on "When Schools Punish Sick Children Who Miss School: A Game Plan"

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School is over, yet I am being required to have an attendance review meeting in July. I am very concerned that my son will be given a citation for truancy. No serious attendance problems were noted at his March IEP meeting. If this is a behavioral issue, isn’t the school required to call a new IEP meeting to determine if the attendance issue is related to his disability (He has visual and auditory processing deficits)? I am reason to believe that the school wants to involve the courts.


LM, sorry for the delay responding. You write that your “son was told he could not take an off campus course because he had too many excused absences.” In my experience as a parent, kids are not necessarily the most accurate reporters of information. YOU need to find out what the school’s policies are.

Have you received any notice in writing that he will not be allowed to take the class? If not, you need to write a polite businesslike letter that documents what your son told you, that you think your son may have misunderstood because schools don’t have policies to prevent students with disabilities who have absences due to illness from attending class. Ask the recipient of your letter to clarify the school’s position and provide you with any written policies about children with chronic illnesses who miss school due to illness.

Depending on the response, you may also want to contact your state department of education for their position.

Does this same rule apply to individuals with mental health disabilities that require them to go to multiple appts and or be hospitalized throughout the year and or receive lab work and other tests due to meds they are on .


You ask if a child’s health care plan needs to be in the IEP (or 504 Plan) to be legally binding. Schools are not legally bound by health care plans. These plans describe the child’s illness and what the child needs, but they are not a commitment by the school to provide services. If the IEP specifically incorporates the health care plan, or includes the information from the health care plan, then it would require the school to provide services or accommodations in the plan.

Read the post “When a School Refuses to Protect a Child with Life-Threatening Allergies”

That child had a health care plan because she was severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Despite documents from her doctor, the school decided that she didn’t have a disability and was not entitled to a 504 Plan. OCR investigated and intervened.

My child is MR ,has a rare skin condition that she gets hives and possibly breathing problems from cold air. Also has liver disease which we are in treatment for i day a month. School wants me to sign paper for some homebound services and wants dr. report . Has had alot of absences but all were legal withdr noe given in Please advise New to PA thanks

It sounds like your child has RND or something similar. Educating the school is probably your best bet. You can find very helpful info if you click the Resources link on this website: http://www.childhoodrnd.org
I wish you and your child the best outcome possible!

I have a child with a disease that causes severe bone, nerve, and muscle pain. No medication or treatment had helped in 15 months of working with various pain specialists.

An IEP was just implemented with homebound service. There are days when no school is done due to pain. How can we educate this student?

This disease is known to cause pain equal to that of the pain after surgery. We’ve been through several pain specialists who say they don’t have anything else left to try. My child can’t concentrate when in such pain.

The evenings are the only time the pain may not be as severe and by that time my child is exhausted emotionally and physically after dealing with pain all day.

The school ignores the doctors’ letters stating the severity of her pain and want education to go on no matter what.

This is an invisible disability and the school believes the student just wants to avoid school. This is far from the truth.

What can I do?

My daughter has type 1 diabetes and is on the Autism spectrum.she has an IEP and a Health Care Plan. Does her Health Care Plan need to be in her IEP to be legally binding? I want to make sure that school staff realizes that they have to follow her health care plan. We have had some trouble in the past where it wasn’t followed.


How much information from my son’s doctors does the IEP team need. They want signed releases from 3 of his doctors because of his regression in Bipolar and change of placement requested. Seems like too much but don’t want to be uncooperative……also seems like their are stalling..

Does your child have an IEP or 504 Plan? Does the IEP or 504 Plan mention the fact that he has a chronic illness? Does the document describe any strategies to deal with his illness?

Contact your state department of education and ask for all information about children with chronic medical problems.


My son was recently told he could not take an off campus class because he had too many excused absences. His absences are diabetes related. He goes to the nurse to deal with a low blood sugar. What do we do now? The way we see it is he has been denied a class because he is diabetic.

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