Can the School Deny Special Ed Services Because of Absences?

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I was told that if a child has excessive absenteeism, he cannot receive special education services.  The school is not allowed to evaluate a child who has not had adequate instruction due to absences?  What percentage of absences would deny special ed services?

Schools cannot refuse to evaluate a child who has frequent absences. This statement is incorrect.

“Excessive” absences trigger the school’s Child Find responsibilities under the IDEA.

  • The district needs to know why the student is absent.
  • The district needs to determine if the student has a permanent or temporary condition related to a disability that is causing absences.
  • The district should complete a comprehensive evaluation as part of the fact-finding process.

Child Find requires each state to devise a practical method to determine which children are receiving the needed special education services, and which children are not.

After identifying children who may need services, all necessary evaluations must be completed on these children, at no cost to parents.

Please read Excessive Absences Trigger Child Find Responsibilities here:

The article explains why schools can’t refuse (or aren’t “allowed”) to evaluate a child who has frequent absences.

Learn more about the Child Find Mandate: What It Means for You

More about Identification & Child Find.

  1. Collect data for a span of time they do have good attendance and are receiving appropriate evidence based interventions. The response to intervention during that time or several stretches of time with good attendance, particularly if the spans are 8-9 weeks or so weeks long with solid data, should give some indication of learning ability especially when compared to periods with poor attendance. It irks me to no end when no attempt is made to remedy attendance and the child or family is written off. I also have experienced the other end where multi-disciplinary teams worked for hours on a plan and parents did not follow through. I think an adequate middle could be used.

  2. There is an exclusionary clause in the special education eligibility fro a student with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) that states 8 consecutive absences, or 10 absences for the school year constitite a lack of educational opportunity, an thus make the child inelligable for special education services under SLD.

      • IDEA does not stipulate a specific number of days that trigger or consider what would constitute a “lack of appropriate instruction.” It must be a state rule as the language of IDEA does not indicate a day. However, from my understanding, States may not specific limit the scope of IDEA and it would be a slippery slope or a state to actually put a numerical date as what constitutes a “lack of appropriate instruction.”

        Lack of appropriate instruction can and should only be determined through a comprehensive evaluation. Many states and districts cite or use their mandatory attendance policies to try and define LoAI, however this has the potential to limit IDEA, which is prohibited, furthermore, academics and academic progress is not relegated to reading or math, so, it is interesting what you posted.

  3. In Florida with a 6th grade student deemed ineligible in 2nd grade due to attendance. Clearly, SLD…….how do we even start the process for this student to become ESE

    • What if a parent is calling a child in sick, but they clearly aren’t ill or the school is suspicious that parent is lying. For instance, the family was heard telling other people that they were on vacation, the child says his mom just didn’t want to drive him to school, said his mom was sick and couldn’t give him a ride so he had to stay home, etc. Several days, the parent called in and told the school that the student’s allergies were acting up and he had a stuffy nose. (Yet I have never heard him sneeze or sniffle.). Sometimes, after being absent, the student was asked why he was out and he says, “I don’t know.”

      This student has missed over 30 full school days between Sept and April, plus another 15 half school days. The student has no ongoing health issues. Technically, the parent called him in sick, so they aren’t “unexcused” absences…but the my are extremely excessive and not due to documented chronic illness.

      He has also changed schools 4-5 times in 4 years.

      • I don’t know if you have a question or simply want to comment. I don’t know if the child in question receives special education and related services or if the question of evaluating the child has been raised. The article you cited is a short summary of the school’s responsibilities under IDEA’s Child Find mandate. It refers the reader to another article,
        Excessive Absences Should Trigger Child Find

        There are many reasons why children miss school – some have medical problems, some are bullied by other students and/or teachers, and many feel hopeless and demoralized at school.

        “Excessive absences” is a trigger for the school’s Child Find legal responsibilities. The school should be concerned about the reasons for the child’s absences and determine whether he has a permanent or temporary condition related to a disability that is causing these absences.

        Years ago, not long after the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142, now called IDEA), I worked in and with schools as a social worker and later as a psychologist. In those roles, I met with families at home to establish healthy, mutually respectful relationships with parents, without preconceptions or judgments. I knew parents were our #1 source of valuable info about their children and their needs.

        I also knew that many parents – especially parents in specific racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups – were often judged by authority figures, especially school staff. I knew that being a “good enough” parent day after day, year after year, with minimal support, is exceedingly hard.

        Bottom line: A child who is often absent triggers responsibilities under IDEA’s Child Find mandate. For more, please read the article cited above.

  4. I was researching this question and came across this discussion. My son has autism and receives a lot of private therapies (38 hrs/week). I want to keep him in school part-time to receive some special education services there. The principal is agreeable to this but the special school district that provides the services is not accommodating. They say he has to either come full time or they are not obligated to provide services. Do you know if this is correct? It doesn’t seem right to me to deny him services simply because we want to take him out early to attend private therapy.

  5. My son missed 15 days this year so far. But all do to dental work or sprained wrist or strep throat. And 2 absences are do to him having dental work from an injury at school where his grown up tooth was broken in half do to the p.e teacher. His teacher and counsuler see he has characteristics of iep in reading and test taking as well as attention problems. BUT the don’t want to test him on thoes because he won’t be eligible for services do to absences. HOWEVER my sons grades are quickly dropping because he is struggling at school. At home I can get him to focus and do his work but at school they aren’t . This is FRUSTRATING he is in 2ND grade. ALSO I HAD AN IEP in reading and test as well.

  6. I think the title of this discussion is misleading… there is a difference between evaluation and providing services. Yes, I will evaluate, but that does not mean that those absences won’t play a huge factor in meeting educational disability criteria – the main factor being access to educational opportunity. If you have excessive absences that are due to anything other than a chronic health condition, the student will not meet the criteria and they will consequently not be eligible for services. Even if the student meets disability criteria for an SLD for example, I can’t rule out that those academic deficiencies aren’t related to lack of consistent instructional opportunity. Just my two cents…

    • This is an issue for all states. However, in TX a student may be eligible for extra services as an at-risk student. This may be true in other states.

  7. our daughter has chairi malition which she has a headache everyday she has days where she drags her self to school and a lot of time she has to leave early because of tiredness and the headache. Some days she just cannot make it to school.We have a letter from her doctor stating she has migraines which are not headaches.when she has one they send her to the school nurse.who acts like our daughter is faking it.she treats our daughter badly. she is missing a lot of school.They have a 504 person at the high school who is more concerned about her missed papers and her grades getting bad in some area.then following what 504 says the school has to do for our daughter. Like this weekend the school was to send her 8 papers she missed in one of the late classes she misses.They did not send the papers. The school is not following the 504 plan.

  8. As a school psychologist, I have trouble gathering evidence to conclude one way or another for SLD cases how many absences are too many each school year, when the absences are not due to disability/health reasons (due to PARENT reasons). I would not want to label a child with a disability when they are perhaps just an English language learner who misses too much school each year because the parent doesn’t make them come (late elementary school). But I also wouldn’t want to deny services to a student who perhaps does have a disability, in addition to attendance issues. Any guidance on what counts as too many absences to conclude they haven’t received adequate instruction or what evidence we could gather for evaluation to demonstrate that the student’s struggles aren’t solely due to attend.?

      • Some state education agencies may have taken a position on this. The federal dept. of education may have given guidance on this that I am not aware of. You can do a general google search or do one on their web site. The federal special ed office will answer letters sent to them. So this is an option for you.

    • I make that determination dependent on the individual case- the students profile, and using clinical judgement. There is not a set number of absences. A student is considered in many states “chronically absent” when missing 10% or more of the school year- usually 18 days. Some cases are tricky to determine- if you can’t rule it out then it is what it is and hopefully there are Tier II services for that student and the student can get to school more consistently so growth can be measured. For others it can be a lot more clear that lack of attendance is not the PRIMARY reason, although it is a factor, it’s just clear the student has a learning disability or medical condition that’s driving the difficulties. This is a hard question to answer because each case is so different.

    • Sorry that wasn’t more helpful… I will say I rely a lot on teacher and parent feedback, observations, record review and my own interactions with the student. Are there periods of time where they were attending consistently? What did their learning look like during that time? How were their behaviors in class? What did the teacher see with the student? Did they pick up on things easily? What have previous teachers commented and are there consistencies in what they struggled in? What academic areas are they struggling? What are their cognitive scores? Do they have a processing disorder? Is that processing disorder consistent with their area of academic difficulty? So many considerations!

  9. We have a student who started sped assessment with the district of residence. He later transferred to us to complete it. However, we learned that the student has been out of school for 6-7 years as he voluntarily stopped out of school to work while he resided in another country. The assessment is being conducted. But won’t it be difficult to qualify for special ed learning disability when he has had so many absences?

    • Perhaps difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Depending on the student’s condition, a trained evaluator may be able to pick up on indications of a disability despite lack of educational experiences. It is also important to know what state laws say about what the schools must do for students who dropped out & are returning.

  10. Janice:

    I understand, as a teacher myself, how frustrating that is. It sounds like either the mother was keeping the child out and/or not getting her medical attention. I am glad that absences must trigger an investigation in some places. It could be the mother was guilty of neglect for whatever reason. It could be that she was uneducated and didn’t have the means to get medical care for a sick child. I hated students being absent because it meant more work for me catching them up. And often the reason was parenting. Not getting kids up on time. But, sometimes there was another reason.

  11. I am a special education teacher. I worked in a charter school. I had a student who had up to 100 days of absence a year. The mother jumped from school to school. When she received a letter stating the school district would bring her to court if she did not bring in a letter or provide a reason why her child was not in school, she would jump to another school. This happened over the course of several years and the child was in school no more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the school year. This went on over several years. I said that this was a case of excessive absences. She could not provide me with documentation from doctors that the child was ill. The school did not want to confront the mother but I did and she went crazy. I actually became fearful over the whole business.

  12. The school’s response is likely based on their interpretation of section 300.306(b). “A child must not be determined to be a child w/ a disability..(1) If the determinant factor for that determination is– (i) Lack of appropriate instruction in reading ..(ii) Lack of appropriate instruction in math”. They are not seeing the difference between absences due to health problems & parents holding students out of school for homeschooling, or other reasons.

    • I have multiple kids that just skip….skip skip…some in excess of 60 days per year…No excuse, no doctors note, no parent etc…How can we teach a kid that isn’t there…we can’t. I too have been told that they can lose their status…Honestly, I can’t see a single reason not to do so with no explanation.

  13. My daughter has autism, cerebral palsy , mitochondrial deficiency with IEP under autism. She has frequent absences due to medical and/or therapy visits and is on a shortened day due to fatigue issues from mito disorder. We have a physician letter documenting the Mito disorder and need for maximum 5 hour school day. School repeatedly requests that we increase the hours in her school day. Even with the documentation from the pediatric neurologist. The school argues the 5 hours doesn’t allow enough instruction time. Basically, our IEP meetings have not resolved this issue because school thinks our child can increase her hours. Her fatigue is a manifestation of her mitochondrial disorder and it certainly affects her learning. We thought that a child with IEP should also be protected by 504 Rehab. Act but it doesn’t seem so.

    • KT: You may be able to include all accommodations and interventions that your daughter needs in her IEP by including a health care plan.There is no need to write a separate Section 504 Plan for protections. Sue Whitney explains how to Include a Health Care Plan in Your Child’s IEP. Review this information to see if it would work in your case. Then use your best advocacy skills to get the IEP team to buy in to the plan.

      Be sure to click the links that describe a model plan and review how to write one to meet your daughter’s needs. Look at all the items that can be included in a thorough 504 plan. Your daughter’s plan should be adapted to her specific medical condition and needs based on her physician’s recommendations.

  14. Disability and health problems go hand in hand! When the school district assesses the individual’s situation is a medical Dr with a background in disabilities involved, or are they leaving medical assessments up to the educators now?

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