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

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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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10/23/2021 5:38 pm

As a nurse and as a parent of a student who had an IEP and a chronic note to allow for occasional lateness, which was then withheld or considered null by a vice-principal, I feel it necessary for parents take a stand against those school administrators who have no idea of medicine, yet consider such students who rather live school, to be truants, as if they have a choice in having certain conditions of ailments which they cannot change. My daughter experienced this and was put in the most awful of positions, as the special education teachers were not helpful. They bullied her and did not help her the way the IEP so specified.

10/26/2021 2:35 pm
Reply to  Sylvia

Sylvia, very sad, & wrong, but happens too often.

03/16/2021 7:46 pm

My daughter has Chronic Stage 3 Lyme Disease that has caused her to be violently ill. Then she got Covid and this has set her back ever further. She also has Neuro Lyme and cannot look at a computer screen for long periods, cannot focus on work she is supposed to do because words get jumbled up, migraines, vomiting, extreme lethargy. She is bedridden and vomiting most days and has fallen very behind on Virtual school. She is on 504 plan and school is threatening to fail her in her classes even though she was an A/B student first marking period. How can they do this? They are also threatening to not let her return to in-person school for 4th marking period because she missed so much work. Now she is depressed because of this, feels like a reject outcast who has no friends.

03/17/2021 1:13 pm
Reply to  Sandra

Your state parent training, & information project should be able to give you information on dealing with this. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

03/25/2021 12:25 pm
Reply to  Sandra

Sandra, my 16 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with chronic Lyme Disease. It has been a battle to work with the school on her attendance. I would love to know what you found out. Our school tells me we can not address attendance in her 504. Even though ours is a parochial school that just doesn’t seem correct. I should contact our parent center hub.

12/18/2020 5:26 pm

What do I do when the school keeps saying on a 504 Plan but actually was not my son had gotten a virus that created ” New daily persistent headaches” and ” pain amplification syndrome” The school has him a quarter behind in his senior year. They keep getting defensive as if they are doing everything they can but not when they wait until he is epically behind. And suggested taking a year off to focus on health or to get his G.E.D. He has a chronic condition it does not go away that developed 2 years ago from a virus.

12/21/2020 3:10 pm
Reply to  Renee

If you have not contacted the district 504 coordinator, I suggest doing that. Sometimes they have more knowledge than a campus of a student’s rights under 504. Also your state parent training & information project may be able to help you. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

02/27/2020 12:16 pm

I don’t have a disease or anything but I’ve been missing school due to chronic vomiting and other health issues. I puked all over a teacher’s shoes today but they sent me back to class because “i don’t have a fever” I’ve been having puking fits for months now and all the doctors say it’s nothing. It could be due to my eating disorder or my anxiety, but even then they won’t allow me to go home. I’ve missed so much school they sent truancy officers two day ago. What the hell do I do? Surely they can’t make me stay if im puking my guts out. Any reply would be helpful. IL

02/18/2020 12:50 pm

My daughter was raped and the school never gave a 504 for her health when she returned.

02/05/2020 4:36 pm

I am currently a Junior in High School. About a month ago I started having acute pain in my upper abdomen. I have been to 3 specialists who are having difficulty identifying the issue. I have been out for 2 whole weeks and this is the beginning of the 2nd semester. I was given a form for a 504 plan but what if the doctors say that there may be nothing wrong? And what could I do about all of the work I have missed?

02/07/2020 1:30 pm
Reply to  Nehemi

The district should have policy on making up missed work. I suggest starting with the HS counselors.

02/03/2020 5:59 am

I’m a senior in high school with A’s and B’s, but sometimes I get VERY bad migraines that prevent me from going to school. My mom isnt able to take me to the doctor much for it, and I’m already on a truancy warning because of these. My school doesnt understand how bad my migraines can be, and sometimes it happens at school, but they never do anything. I dont know what to do.

02/03/2020 3:11 pm
Reply to  Aimee

I suggest researching the district policies, & procedures on illness, excused, & unexcused absences. These should be on the district website. You may find something that can help you in making a written appeal to the principal, & to his bosses if necessary. The district 504 coordinator may be of some help. You do not say in you are served by a 504 plan or an IEP, but you do have health issues.

02/04/2020 10:07 am
Reply to  Aimee

Have your doctor write a letter to the school explaining the severity of your migraines and the educational impact they will have. Have your mother request a 504 plan to address your medical needs.

01/07/2020 1:54 pm

My son is going to a Tx high school and was playing football, the coach was pushing him slightly hard and my son went for a run and another student went for the tackle. It ended up being a helmet to helmet hit, causing a really bad concussion, my son was was being treated from Sept to Dec when he was cleared. He would see the Dr from time to time for pain and follow ups, but in between he would miss days when he started sensitivity to sound and light in the morning, or he would wake up with a really bad headache. Sometimes on the bus he would get nauseous from the movement rattling his brain, or his classes were loud so I would have to pick up early. My problem is, his Dr. did put on his concussion protocol that he may have to miss or be picked up early due to these issues. What do I do?

01/08/2020 2:59 pm
Reply to  LaTasha

It is not clear if your son has an IEP or 504 plan. If not you can request that he be evaluated for special education services. He may qualify as having a traumatic brain injury. TX also allows homebound services for any student under some circumstances. I work for the TX parent training & information center. Our staff can assist you. http://www.prntexas.org

01/05/2020 12:16 am

I have three child with mitochondrial myopathy and other medical problems. All this is documented along with developmental delay of two of them and autism of one of the two. A specialist that we travel too wrote to the school with a list of accommodations the school needed to follow to slow the progression of the disease. Two other drs wrote to them with how important it is for them to follow the accommodations and what the disease is and will do you them.
All of them have plans but they don’t address the correct or all accommodations. They also don’t follow the plans. I have 2 children that can’t keep up and grades suffer . They miss school due to specialist and illness and pain. The school said my kids don’t belong in a brick and mortar school they also said I needed to find a new dr.

01/06/2020 3:22 pm
Reply to  Shelean

I suggest starting with your state parent training and information project. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center It is not clear if you are dealing with special ed or 504 staff or both. The center can assist you in either case.

12/16/2019 11:32 am

I am a high school student with a health problem not yet officially documented, because doctors are expensive. We got a truancy note even though the absences are excused. Should I be as worried as I am?

12/16/2019 2:01 pm
Reply to  Aiden

The problem is that the district, & court will want documentation of your health problems, reasons for each absence. You should study your campus handbook, & district policy regarding the required documentation. I suggest working with the school counselor or someone in the community, to find sources of low cost medical help in your town. If you can show that you are trying to find help that may help in working with the school and court.

12/04/2019 6:06 pm

so i have a question i am a student at a school where attendance is important i have really good grades and work really hard but my teacher is threatening to kick me out because i have been throwing up for 3 days and i dont have a doctors note saying i have the flu what would you suggest my parents or i to do ? ( she is also the princaple and my parents have tried talking to her about this )

11/25/2019 8:21 pm

My child is totally disabled and has seziures, cp, and a few other health problems and has been out of school alot this year. I just received a letter to be in court for truancy. can i get it trouble? What do i do?

11/27/2019 2:35 pm
Reply to  Chrissy

Collect all documentation that you have on the causes of the absences, & communication to the school about his absences, & condition., Bringing your child or a video to the court could be helpful in them understanding why your child has been absent.

11/24/2019 7:00 am

My school district uses my daughter frequently missing school due to major chronic deadly health conditions against her. But I kept asking about is it a law to help me with this? What should your school and district supposed to do and offer ne and my child? They said nothing, she in truancy so now I know they lied and the hearing officers of my 2 due process complaints either doesn’t know the laws or just being on the side of the LRSD district for money because both officers took up and stood by lrsd saying it’s no law. Here it is , so I just sent it to the current due process hearing officer.

11/25/2019 12:39 pm
Reply to  VICTORIA

Many states have laws, & programs for ill students. Homebound instruction is a common program. Research your state rules to see if they have such a program, or others for students with health issues.

11/21/2019 9:06 am

My child has been diagnosed with Panic and depressive disorder two years and had missed 10 days. He was placed on medication and We had given the school a paper from a doctor and The school helped him with it. but it has happened again this year and so far has missed 4 days. Is there anything I can do so he doesnt fall behind in school?

11/21/2019 1:18 pm
Reply to  JGC

You can discuss this with the principal or school counselor. If he has an IEP or 504 plan, you can also ask to meet with the team to discuss this.

11/18/2019 1:56 am

My 14 y/o son has been inpatient since the 3rd week of school. His medical concerns reached a point where it was necessary to transfer him to an out of state hospital. 6 days before he was transferred out of TX, his school district withdrew him without our parental permission. In fact, they went ahead and withdrew him on the very day they encouraged me to withdraw him prior to his medical transfer, yet I specifically said I was not comfortable withdrawing him until I had met with the hospital’s education dept. By the time I was able to connect with the hospital about services they informed me that our school district withdrew him! They didn’t give us notice! I have emails and a questionable timeline by the school district. I am looking for suggestions as to how to move forward.

11/18/2019 3:38 pm
Reply to  Laura

Legally, they can probably do this, since they knew he would be leaving the district. The key is the enrollment when he is ready return. Appropriate services and supports must be put in place before he comes back. I am with the TX federally funded center that works with parents of children with disabilities. You can learn about us at: https://prntexas.org/

11/16/2019 3:40 pm

Please help my daughter has an IEP she has missed several days due to medical condition some are noted as excused by a doctor’s note and some are unexcused as no doctor note provided. The school notified the courts of my daughter as a truancy case of a child in need of care! Devistating! I have no criminal record, my child never been in trouble! Gets good grades. family strong foundation, morals, values, attend church regularly, have long term stable employment, ( husband 25 plus yrs owner welding company) I do a few hrs home health, and full time homemaker.Have 26yr old son Lt and decorated pilot USAF, 16 yr old sweet Talia with disabilities. And 6 yr old w/ perfect attendance. Court took custody of Talia. Devastation! Yet placed her in our home still AMEN. How can they do this? Help pl

11/01/2019 4:42 pm

I am in Pennsylvania, my daughter just received letter for a 504 plan, plus she has ongoing issues due to a concussion. This is all new to me, I’m losing sleep because I’m afraid they will fail her. Her school has what they call DAT so an auto fail for not attending. Can anyone tell me if there is an advocacy organization for parents? I feel I will need a helping hand.

11/04/2019 2:38 pm
Reply to  Cindy

I suggest starting with your state parent training and information project. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center They are an information center, but they will also know of advocacy organizations.

10/16/2019 3:41 pm

We are in the state of MD. My son is in 9th grade and has a 504 for chronic health issues that are yet to be diagnosed and the extreme anxiety this has caused. He also is in the CHIPS program which makes any absences related to his condition automatically medically excused. I am so appreciative to have these in place. But my question is ..can a teacher request to have a child transferred out of his class to another elective bc he feels that he cannot make up the clssroom participation points ? My son really enjoys this class and would be devastated if he cannot continue. I dont see why he cant do special projects or something. When my son is there he is able to fully participate. I did not think the schools were allowed to exclude a child on a 504 and He is still in PE so it doesn’t make sense.

10/15/2019 4:29 am

My 12yr old son has bi polar disorder and was hospitalized for a month due to explosive behavioral issues. He is in an out of distirict placement and the school has failed him in health and wellness due to absences. I live in Massachusetts, just wondering what if any part of IDEA or 603 might support me to request the school not to fail him in this class.

10/09/2019 4:39 pm

Hi ,
my 17 year old daughter has a 504 for anxiety. The school was allowing me to send an email giving permission for her to leave school when her anxiety was really bad.
Today , i sent the email but the person who gets the email was in a meeting. The school did not call me or my husband and they told my daughter to wait until they heard from me or the woman who received the email. Well i was driving when my daughter text me and as soon as I saw it i emailed the other woman. My daughter said she couldn’t wait and knew i gave her permission, so she left the school.Now they want to give her in school suspension.I told them that they would just cause her to have more anxiety. Now they are saying she can’t leave without a parent or guardian to come and sign her out out. should i get a lawyer

09/11/2019 11:47 am

okay, so my friend missed 1 day is school and her mom called in and explained that she was in the hospital. but the school still gave her a detention for truancy. and my sister was sick the other day and missed her first day of school, and my mom called in, but she still got a detention for truancy.
There is always some type of sickness going around the school making people really sick, but they still punish kids for being absent because of the illness.

08/27/2019 7:12 pm

The link to the American Diabetes Association model 504 plans and health plans is not working. It shows as an error. When I went directly to their site, it brought up insurance plans only. Can you suggest another route to access their 504 plan for chronic illness?

Thank you.

Wrightslaw (@admin)
09/02/2019 7:44 am
Reply to  Flohr

We’ve updated the link to the new links on the American Diabetes Association site. https://www.diabetes.org/resources/know-your-rights/safe-at-school-state-laws/written-care-plans/section-504-plan

Thanks for the heads up!

05/16/2019 6:54 pm

I think it is a legal absence if you are absent due to post concussion syndrome but my school doesn’t and makes go to urgent care just to get a note for being absent for more than 1 day and they don’t believe what you have to say and think that I am making this up when I notes in the nurses office saying I have post concussion symptoms and I am not cleared for gym. They think I am using that an excuse when I am in such I deep sleep because I am so tired that my parents can’t wake me up.

05/09/2019 7:06 pm

I have a 17 yr old daughter with NF1, asthma, hypertension, anxiety, depression and brain and spine tumors. She constantly is at one form or another of Dr at Akron Children’s hospital. She applied for the teaching program at TCTC where they were told before she was accepted that she had numerous health issues. They assured us that it would not be an issue they accommodate students with health issues. Now she’s being criticized because she’s missed 26 days of school due to health issues. All the she has Dr excused for. She was told w her iep she could attend their school till age 21 if she chooses to and pick a different program every year. Now being told having someone like her there isn’t fare to other students who could be there everyday in her place. I think its a lot of BS!

06/19/2019 9:38 am
Reply to  Robin

Robin – Are you connected with your County Board of DD? It sounds like your daughter may be eligible for services. If you are connected, your SSA should be working with you and a parent mentor or advocate from the Ohio Coalition (OCECD): https://www.ocecd.org/ContactaParentMentor.aspx

Your daughter has a right to stay in school until the day before she turns 22…if TCTC doesn’t like it, too bad – they are a publicly funded school!

05/02/2019 2:41 pm

Our son has recently had brain surgery. He is attending a few hrs a day as he is able but he is still recovering (it hasn’t been a month since surgery yet). We are in NC. He will have missed most of 4th quarter. Can he be exempt from the final quarter or will he have to retake all classes if he is unable to do the work before the end of the year. He did very well until his surgery, we are now only 6 weeks til the end of the school year. He is in the 10th grade and has an IEP. The school is being very understanding, I just need to know how this is usually handled before our meeting next week.

05/06/2019 5:57 pm
Reply to  Lynne

There is likely state and district policy and rules on this. Your district central office or state parent training and information center can help you find and understanding the options for the school and your child. The school should have a homebound program to serve students who are not able to come to school for medical reasons. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

04/25/2019 6:53 pm

My son got mono a year and a half ago and is having severe complications in which doctors have now diagnosed him with AMPS Amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrom. This has led to him missing at least 30 days in which the state courts have ordered intervention from a Juvenile Officer. I feel like we are now being punished as have to take him to the doctor every instance he misses school just to get a doctors excuse while in limbo with doctors of what to do long term about his condition.

04/26/2019 2:58 pm
Reply to  roberth

Every state has a Disability Rights agency to help parents with legal issues. I suggest your contact your state’s agency. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

04/09/2019 9:16 pm

I think that this issue even goes into higher education facilities as well. Most City Colleges have instituted an absentee policy that students can miss no more than TWO classes in a semester and this includes student with disabilities. This violates everything and they were sued for it years ago but found a work around and changed it to participation but now its coming back as absentee. I have students who I work with who get solid A’s on their exams sometimes a B, do all the homework do everything including extra credit but then the instructor fails them or withdraws them due to absences even if its a chronic medical condition.

03/12/2019 1:28 pm

hello, my son has missed 18 days of school for being sick. we found out that he’s lactose and we are now treating the condition. NJ law you can only be out of school 20 days. he has kept up his grades and even made the honor roll. but the school is calling me in to discuss. I’m scared they will require him to repeat the grade. I cant find anything on the internet about being excused from school for medical reasons is there such a thing? I’m also worried what if he gets sick with something else we only have 2 days to spare and 3 months left of school..
any advice before I go into the school for a meeting? thanks

03/12/2019 4:54 pm
Reply to  MelissaM

Many states have policies on excused absences. Try googling excused school absences in NJ for health reasons.

03/05/2019 1:59 pm

Does my son have an rights or is there any laws to dropping a course late in the school year if he suffers from depression, in the state of Illinois? He’s a senior and the only way out of a course that is thoroughly stressing him out beyond a normal range is to take a withdrawal/Fail? Is there any legal rights that would grant him a Withdrawal (W) on his transcripts??

Wrightslaw (@admin)
03/08/2019 10:47 am
Reply to  kelly

Kelly, each state has laws and regulations governing special education & education. State laws can be different from federal law In some areas. Federal law does not address issues like dropping a class. If this is addressed anywhere, it would be in your state law/regulations. We can’t answer your question about whether your son has any legal rights, except in general terms.

If your son has an IEP or 504 plan, he may have protections, especially if the IEP or 504 plan provides for accommodations and/or modifications that address his depression. If he has an IEP or 504 Plan, is the school providing the accommodations and/or modifications listed?

I strongly urge you to request a consultation with an Illinois attorney who specializes in education / special education law. In most places, consultations are not very expensive but will provide you with accurate info about legal righs in your state and how to proceed.

We built the Wrightslaw Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities site that has listings for attorneys, advocates, evaluators, tutors, etc for each state – Go to https://www.yellowpagesforkids.com and click your state.

The Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys (COPAA) has listings of their members. Info about their directory is here.

02/06/2019 11:03 pm

Hi child services are trying to take away my children due to frequent absences from school. My 14 yr old suffers chronic migraines causing her absences. She’s been hospitalized 2xs and in and out of the er alot. I also have an autistic 9 yr old that hates going to school and flat out refuses alot we have been working with school and child services and a social worker to get him to attend. We are also getting him wrap a round service to try to help. The schools report the absences and now cys is taking us to court to remove my kids. How can they get away with this when both kids have a disability?

02/11/2019 9:30 am
Reply to  elisha

Wraparound should help to educate the other community agencies, as well as Children’s Services about your family’s situation. It should help with both children, even if it is specifically convened for your son. Just be sure to cooperate and take advantage of any of the services they offer. You also need to find out if your son is being bullied. If you know other kids in his class or their parents, ask them…they always know what’s really going on in class, on the bus, in the lunchroom etc.

01/25/2019 2:01 pm

My child has missed 40 or more days of school because of chronic illness she been seen by several specialties had scoliosis surgery 3 years ago and after has been serving from unexplained abdominal pain every 3 weeks which keeps her out of school at times also suffered from eczema/allergies she’s always catch colds more often and can keep her at home too. I always notify the school what’s going on with her with doctor’s notes. So recently the school social worker call DCF on me now twice I explained show prove but it seems they don’t care just wants my daughter in school. Of course I want my daughter in school please help I’m at my wit’s end what can I do? Do I have parents rights and my child? Need advice.

12/10/2019 11:51 am
Reply to  Juanita

I have a son 14yrs old with an IEP that had suffered a concussion in 4th grade and was out of school for a year he suffers from post traumatic concussion syndrome and hes out with ocular migraines he was recently showing signs of depression and i took him to a therapist and he feels he has traumatic brain injury also agitated depression with suicidal thoughts & my school in NY has called CPS on my son 3 times and have all been unfounded he wants to go to school but the headaches are debilitating and he also has IBS and GERD on top of all this which is all documented to the school and my son has notes from drs going to see a neurologist tomorrow and i feel like i am being harrassed

12/16/2018 8:57 pm

My child is OHI. What is a good sample attendance accommodation statement that can be inserted into her IEP? Thank you

12/17/2018 4:45 pm
Reply to  Rebekah

Not sure what you mean by “attendance accommodation statement.

11/29/2018 4:20 pm

If I do decide to homeschool my sister would she still be allowed to go to the career center for extra schooling for health science?

11/30/2018 2:55 pm
Reply to  Shawna

Legally they probably could, but it would depend on state, & district policy, & procedures.

08/21/2018 10:14 pm

i am a 14 year old high student and i have been getting very sick over the past 2 weeks. my mom works from 8am to 6pm and she has no time to take me to the doctors. i have a iep and health issues including PTSD ADHD asthma and more.my mom is upset because if she does not work she can’t pay rent and we don’t know anyone here really 2 help us and I just moved from NY.i missed 1 day of school but my mom is afraid to let me stay home and rest. I just barely get out of my bed and I keep waking her up with my coughs. if I miss more days of school she can get a fined. I don’t want that and she can’t play rent and a fine. please help if u have advice.

08/22/2018 4:06 pm
Reply to  christopherlee

Contact your state parent training and information project. They will have information on your options with the school and your health issues. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

08/07/2018 8:49 pm

I have a kid that was in pre-k last due to missing days of school and now cause of the hurricane we relocated to a house temporarily he has ADHD ,allergies, asthma,etc he missed so many days of school almost 15 I asked for a transfer to stay in the same school they approved kid and denied the other other for attendance for being sick can they do that he has dr notes for all the days he was absent who do I need to talk to or call about this to get the problem fixed

08/08/2018 1:30 pm
Reply to  Stephanie

If he is served by special education, or Section 504, you can contact the district coordinator/director for that program.

06/27/2018 1:32 am

This did not help me. My daughter a teen was deeply harmed by campus violence drug and sex acts and violent attacks on innocent non drug abusing kids. At school if you dont act like a thug gangster or a drug dealer or a physically abusive violent criminal you are victimized. If you are wearing clothes not approved of by the teens that run the school if you try to participate in class if you are gay bisexual lesbian or transgender if you defend another student being viciously attacked verbally and or physically you then become the mob mentality focus until you feel like you should do what they say and kill yourself. It isnt heard at the school the staff is more concerned about making the campus a place where bad kids wanna be because they dont care at all about the good kids

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