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.

  1. I would also contact your local Americans with Disabilities Act Department which is usually at the State House. I have found them amazingly helpful and you would be surprised how many rights your children have. Especially about not following the usual rules. Good Luck.

  2. My child has asthma and has missed several days due to her asthma or lung illnesses that were made worse due to her asthma. The school requested this year if our child is sick to keep them home due to the “swine flu” scare. Now my child has been denied the opportunity to participate in her 8th grade activities due to the missed days of school even though she was ill and needed special care at home and based this on a “contract” she signed at the beginning of the year saying she would not miss more than 20 days of school. How are we to know how often she would be ill at the beginning of the year. Can the school discriminate against her and punish her for health issues by refusing her the opportunity to celebrate the end of her 8th grade year and attend these functions with her classmates?

  3. My son has a kidney disease and has missed alot of school this year. The state board helped me with the truancy but the school wants to hold him back in the first grade. We had a meeting to discuss the matter on may 25th with only 10 days of school left and they just informed me of the 504 plan. The 504 plan should have been in place along time ago. now because my son has to repeat the first grade is there anything i can do to stop it?

    • its so sad because what we dont know will hurt us. i will call an official meeting with the school board and explain to them his condition. also have documented papers from his doctor, medications etc.

  4. I am a mom of two diabetic daughters, and I have so many problems at school, my 11 year old is type1 and my 9 year old has type one also but also has a seizure disorder, we have had just problem after problem with school and it is very frustrating. My 9 year old missed alot of school last year due to seizures, we had a letter from the neurologist but were still fined from the school and district justice. I feel that these diabetic children are just being pushed to the side and that the laws for the children are not being followed. I feel that these school districts, teachers, school nurses, and school staff, need to be educated and on the same page as the parents.

  5. I don’t know what to do! My 15 yr. old son has mental health problems that are being treated through medication and counseling that are documented. His High school has filed two chins on him with the court, the courthouse put him on probation for six months with a probation officer who is out of control and now, they want to hold his truancy’s against him. I don’t know my rights with the school or the courthouse and cannot afford an attorney. I did get an court appointed lawyer but she doesnt seem to be doing much either. I don’t feel he should be persecuted for a mental health illness. He is on three medications for it and gets counseling, what more can I do for him? His friends dont want to be friends with him anymore because the school put him in special ed classes and he’s being bullied by the principle and guidance people. HELP!!

  6. After 18 a sp.ed. student is not truant when at home recovering from health issues, and I can find little help or information.

    A letter was provided to School 2 months ago that the student could not return to school due to multiple medical concern, the school contacted the parent and said an IEP meeting had to be schedule, but did not share information about necessary physicians forms. A month later, they emailed physician form, but did not notify by phone or letter that this was required. It has been 3 weeks since physician, parent form were provided to school, and they say NO homebound services until they speak to MD (that may be impossible due to HIPPA and Dr. rarely returns phone calls). I know regular kids are availed fair and timely homebound services. School will be over before anyone reviews complaint or services are delivered


    My daughter has never had a problem, but the last three days has been sent home from school with a terrible rash and itching, which clears up by the time we get home. (thurs, fri, and mon.) She had NO symptoms over the weekend. Appears to be allergic to something at the school. Due to job change, we have no insurance at this time and can’t afford tests. They sent her to a ‘school’ clinic. If necessary, can I keep her home the rest of the year, “homeschool” her with their curriculum and still get credit? (7th grade) I am a former teacher and homeschooled my other kids for over 10 years.


      Cathy: For regulations regarding homeschooling in your state, you need to check your State Department of Education website – or find a contact number and call someone to inquire about the homeschooling regulations. You’ll find your state DOE here: http://www.yellowpagesforkids.com/help/seas.htm

      It may not be safe to assume that it is the school or something/someone at the school causing the reaction. Your child my have an allergy that could cause a serious reaction in any environment. Could your local health department or free clinic provide some assistance?


    I was given a letter in the mail that they were referring my child’s case to truancy court. The letter was in the mail today just left in mail box and it was dated on the 25th. I enrolled my son in the home school program on the 25th and he was with drawn the same day. Can i still be held accountable for truancy even though he is in a homeschool program? My child has alot of medical issues and several times they sent him home and gave me permission to take him out early…………now I’m scared. What do I do. I don’t want my child taken from me because of this…..please someone help

    • call the arc of tn. they just trying to make you put him back in that school because they get paid for every child that goes there they ant going to take your child. the arc took my child case. its free hun dont stop fighting.

    • What kind of a homeschool program is your state quantified and legally assisting you with homeschooling scheduling? How does your state defend and also define truancy? Truancy is a legal term, from what I understand, attached of parentally legal adults both private and planned educational goals and just as long as he is legally your child the ‘accountability’ issue should be your ‘clearness’ responsibility. What I don’t really understand is if he is being homeschooled how could they…send him home? Who is they?

  9. I am currently summons to court for my sons excused absences. I’m worried as the summons states you need a lawyer or your children could be taken. I contacted the truant officer to explain that the last slip was not turned in and he would not let me turn the slip in since December is over. I’m worried, If they were to take my child it would devastate him. Not to mention he would tantrum and wonder what is going on.

    I currently don’t have a 504 plan, but am working on one. Is there anything I can do? I’m desperate for an answer to why they would not excuse a Doctors note and I’m paying $400.00 to retain a lawyer.

  10. My son is in 7th grade has been sick for most of the first two sememsters. While I am trying to make sure he keeps up with his homework and in contact with the teachers, I am worried because this is a private school and they can only miss a certain amount. I am afraid they are going to call me and tell me he has failed because of the absences. He gone to the doctors several times but so far he cannot find out what is wrong. Is there anything I can do to protect him from failing from missing school? I am stressing out from not knowing what is wrong with him and worried he will and all the money this is costing.


    What if the absences are not due to a medical condition but a mental health condition which is the eligibility for receiving special services? The child has been penalized for absences due to anxiety issues. They filed truancy on the child the first day they found him to be eligible for services and continue to do so. They have not provided him services while he was not attending school, and denied him all credit in the process. Does this child need a health plan as well or is it enough to have an IEP? We are filing a complaint with the SEA for no FAPE at this time.

  12. My child is ADD and also has chronic asthma and allergies. She has been good with her illness until this year and has missed a number of days of school and has had to have the ambulance called to the school one time. The 504 has been in place since she was in grammar school. At this time I do not know if it is being followed. I used to get a call and be allowed to sit in on all of the meetings concerning Cassie and the 504 and now I get absolutely nothing. When I asked the person over these children about this she said that they no longer did that and that they no longer had a mentor for these children. My child has a teacher who is giving her an extremely hard time and they don’t seem to understand or care that there is a 504 in place for her. How can I make them understand that they will accommodate her needs under this law?

  13. After 14 mos of our League City, Tx school refusing to evaluate our 15 yr old as requested by parents, in writing, since 08/08 & 10/08, never providing an FAPE, and refusing to listen to our son’s 6 specialists, we have decided enough is enough.
    Since the homebound teachers sent out MODIFIED the tests by reducing MC answers,giving open book test/exams, & even giving him answers to open book tests, my son has learned NOTHING. He said he felt like a cheater! When his health worsened & Dr. stated fulltime hmbnd on all core subj.;the district DROPPED ALL HOMEBOUND!!
    We will not allow our son’s educ. to rely on this school to follow the law, because they feel they are above the law.
    We have hired 2 cert teachers for 3 days/wk. & I need help finding an accredited HS curriculum adaptable to his way of learning. We have an IEE with suggstns.

  14. My 10 year old has an IEP for speech. Can she use it for the RND? She misses school from the pain.
    Does the school district have to make accommodations for homework and transportation to and from the school to the Children’s Institute where she receives treatment? Does my child have that right? Can this be written in an IEP and can she get a IEP for her condition if a doctor has diagnosed her? What do I need? The school district tells me her condition has to affect her academically to receive an IEP. What does the word “academics” include and is this true?

  15. I just had our 504 meeting (while an IEP in being evaluated). I had read this information about absences and asked that it be written into my daughter’s plan…they said no way. My daughter has an anxiety disorder/PTSD and depression from cyber assult 3 years ago. Had missed school in past r/t meds, depression and anxiety. Never had heard of 504/IEP. They just told us she had too many absences (doctors wrote letters explaining intermittent absences) (made As/Bs) but had to go to homebound to relieve absence issues (maybe 504/IEP might have made staying possible or prevented absences in first place!). So far she’s been everyday but I want the protection in case. They quoted need x-number of days attendance by law. They also said that when you miss you don’t learn. Not so. Is there something concrete I can quote to them? Thanks

  16. My son, a 15 year old on the autism spectrum, has an IEP with a disability rating of autism, which we had to FIGHT for–they wanted to place him in the “emotional disturbance” category. He just began high school and because of circumstances that occurred last year at school, (an unfounded knife check –he collected them but never took one to school, and a sexual assault on my son by another boy–whose mother happens to be a vice principal at my son’s high school) he is experiencing severe school fear and anxiety ( well documented by his psychiatrist and private counselor) and could not go back after the first day. He is on medical leave for anxiety, and is attempting, as best he can (needs one-on-one instruction) to complete his school assignments. We just received a letter from principal threatening truancy if not in school on Monday.

  17. I recently requested the statistics in our school district (FOIA)for the amt of students “found” in compliance with receiving NCLB child find. My son’s high school had “0”. As a matter of fact, out of ALL 4 High Schools in district, only 1 school evaluated any students. However, when that school reevaluated high school students already in Spec Ed, they found that 10 were no longer eligible for services.

    Why do schools keep getting Title I and NCLB funds when they obviously are not holding up their end. The administration should be fined and have their salaries reduced. Isn’t that what would happen to most of us if we did not do our job?

  18. My son has an autoimmune deficiency disease that causes chronic pain, inflamation of his joints, muscles.connective tissues, and back. He is taking Methotrexate for it. He also has Tourette’s Syndrome, and he has a very serious and severe form of Autonomic Dysfunction (symptoms include syncope, tachycardia, very low blood pressure, muscle weakness,& complete loss of consiousness.) His Dr filled out the HBound form attaching a detailed description of his disability. He is to have core classes on homebound for the school yr. My son had been on intermittent HB and now that his condition has worsen, SCHOOL DROPPED ALL HOMEBOUND. My son’s school has left my 15 year old chronically ill and now with no way of attaining an education. My son’s 504 plan was never followed. School retaliates when parents request services for ill.

  19. My son with a 504 for Asthma and Depression recently missed a week + of school after the first few days of this school year due to flu with severe fever and pulmonary inflamation. His peers began texting that one of the teachers told his class that the students should tell “Joe” that he is currently FAILING his class for missing a whole week of classes. My son is now displaying signs of anxiety over dealing with the attitude his teachers will express once he returns. Isn’t this unprofessional, discriminatory and bullying behavior?

    • You need to document what happened with a short, factual letter (no allegations about “unprofessional, discriminatory and bullying behavior”) to the teacher and her supervisor or the principal (a person you think is fair). Ask what the teacher thinks you and she can do to help your son return to school without so much anxiety.

      The response to your letter will help you decide what to do next.

  20. I used to attend a public school. I had kidney stones which caused me to be rushed to the ED from school alot of times and each time the school said “half day unexcused” and some days i woke up in pain so i just didn’t go. They said unexcused absence and when i had doctors appointments the school said unexcused and only excused them for the duration of the appointment which meant half day unexcused. The school never once offered me a 504 or IEP. I had over 100 missed days and 50 tardies. My teachers gave me F’s and gave me trouble with make up work, telling me I had to have 5 days worth of school work plus homework done by the next day, and then to make it even worse they filed a educational neglect complaint with children family services. Now its on my educational record as a repeat truant offender! is that legal?

    • Your supposed to get as many days as you miss to make up school work is how it has always been done in any district my kids have ever attended. Sounds like you need to contact the State Department of Education and tell them what happened because you should have been offered a 504 and had time to make up your assignments. Maybe it can get get taken off your record if they investigate and find the school was in the wrong which it sounds like they were.

  21. My son has Craniosynostosis. He missed alot of school days due to servere migraines from the metal moving in his skull as well as the pressure the skull is putting on the brain. He made up all his missed hours and most of his daily work in all his classes and passed them all except history which he failed by 3 points. The school (Texas public) failed him for the whole year. He will have to retake the 7th grade including the classes he passed with good grades. Our school does not have summer school so the class couldn’t be made up in that manner. Isn’t there some kind of law that makes exceptions for kids who fail a class due to being unable to make up all the work they missed? It seems so unfair he should have to retake classes that he made A’s and B’s in. Is there anything we can do?

  22. I have 2 children that have missed school quite a bit. the school has been aware of their medical problems. My daughter is a straight A student and is advanced 3 grade levels then her natural grade level but suffers from cronic migrains and we have tried nemorus treatments & meds and she has suffered through all the testings& specialist. The school is aware of this and I have brought paper to back all of it up. I have spoke with the princpal about this situation alot. She has told me not to worrie as long as they (the school) knows whats going on and they have the paper work nothing will happen. But now I receive a letter about a hearing now. My son has cronic asthma and has asthma attacks also. and can not attened school at times.I feel i have just been deceived with all the school has told me. my children would rather be at school…..

  23. My 12 year old daughter has a primary immune deficiency which causes her to miss a good portion of school through out the year. She has been covered by IEP’s now for 4 years and her illness has always been addressed in the IEP’s.

    Recently, I raised an issue with the district re: lack of safe and appropriate transportation services for my child. Now, I have received a letter from the principle threatening referral to our local SARB re: my daughter’s absences. My daughter had an IEP three weeks ago in which this issue WAS NOT BROUGHT UP AS AN ISSUE WHATSOEVER. I believe this is clearly a tactic by the school and district into intimidating me due to my other complaint. What are my best options at this point?

  24. My daughter has partial seizure disorder. She also has sever migraines. The doctor wrote a letter to the school saying it can effect her schooling. She misses many days because of the seizure and/or migraines. The school only allows 3 missed days per semester. She has exceeded it. They are saying she must go to Saturday school to make up the days. As it is right now, she will be attending every Saturday until school lets out.
    I had a 504 plan meeting yesterday and was told that they cannot accommodate or excuse her absences because it is against school policy. Since she is making up the work and passing her classes then she does not need accommodations and therefore does not qualify. Her teachers are allowing her to make up the work now but in the past I was told by teachers that they don’t have to. They then stop accommodating her.

  25. I work for a school. I suspect that a student with valid health conditions and an IEP is missing school for reasons other than those related to her health condition. Is there anything that we (the school) can do when a student with health conditions is suspected of being truant?

      • When did a parent’s logic and God given right get superseded by ANYONE else become okay in a free country such as this? Not to mention a school policy that says do not bring your child to school unless 24 hrs have passed since fever but punishes you for doing so? Sometimes parents fall into a category of ” I make a dollar to much to receive assistance but WAY to less to less to afford medical costs for the common cold because tests are done by the worst suspected illness to the least.” ?And then you’re punished for that?! Both my sons have a tell tale sign of fever. It’s weird but I’m weird so they get it honest. They whimper in their sleep. I hear it bc even at middle school age I still get up and check to see if their bellies are moving as a sign of still breathing. Sick or not.

  26. I would love help from any parents who have been through this. My daughter has been ill since November and has been rushed to the ER twice with gastric pain. She has undergone several test but we still do not know what is wrong with her. She is now under treatment through Children’s Hosp and will see a gastric specialist this week. She is on an IEP for her reading disability. However not once has the school offered a 504 for her. I have asked and been told she has to have a diagnoses. All of her absences from school have been excused but since she has missed around 20 days this year we have received letters and now the school district contacted Social services. We are now being investigated. I am the Girl Scout leader at our school and have worked in education for the past 6 years. Please I would love any help you can provide.

  27. My son has ectodermal dysplasia and is 11. He goes to a private christian school. They are complaining about his absences due to surgeries and illnesses. My question is whether or not they are legally bound by the same laws as a public school? I have no EIP plan or anything like that as it was never an issue. He is now in middle school and the bible teacher of all people is complaining about me emailing with questions when he is gone and having to gather work etc. The kid gets straight As and I have a meeting with the principial today. Any help would be appreciated. I am sorry for the late notice but I didnt even know this websit existed!!

  28. Can a parent pull their child from a center program or POHI class prior to the end of the school day if it to attend outpatient therapy services and not be threatened by the school for the child missing school?

  29. 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.

  31. 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

  34. Ellen,
    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!

  35. 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?

  36. 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..

  38. 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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