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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What about the child’s learning?! That is what school is all about…to learn! If the child is not present for lessons that impedes their ability to master the subject materials, learn to cooperate with others, be responsible for deadlines, and learn to manage their time. I sympathize with children who are chronically ill, but school isn’t a punishment, it’s an opportunity. Students who miss school need to have the same educational opportunities as other students and that means making up the learning opportunities in some form. Students with chronic heath problems are usually offered home school services by the school district. Parents really need to figure out equitable ways to make sure their students are getting the instruction they need to succeed with their learning goals.


My child has cronic breathig problems and stays sick during the school year but when she is out for s break she is my normal 6 yr old. I honestly think something is wrong with the school and mow they want to make her repeat KD
And she is way to smart to do that! I’m thinking of homeschooling her for a while until they find out what’s making her sick


principal threatens me with youth services and ss, my kids miss more days than allowed, there are three contagious illnesses at the school, the doctor’s office is booked for two days, the clinic at the elementary school is booked for the two days they are there, if we could just get these kids well at the same time!!! And something should be done about sending sick kids to school just so parents wont loose their jobs!!!


My daughter is seventeen and she is pregnant. her pregnancy is high risk and was diagnosted with hyperemesis gravidarum witch is known as uncontrolled and persistent nausea and vomiting. Hyperemesis gravidarum only occurs in about 2% of pregnancies. it usually only lasts the first four months – she is three months now and still its the same. she cant go to school in this condition and keep getting filed on for truancy. I cant afford to keep paying tickets. what can I do when I go to court?


im in high school and i have be absent 20 time becaseu of being sick. my mother wites me notes for the days that i have missed but that dosent always work in the state of texas for all absent. they want me to have docters note, but i dont go to the docter when i am sick becacuse my mother is a nurse and dosent take me becaseu she knows what is wrong with me. what should i do about this, can i make these days up in summer school.


My daughter has been diagnosed with PTSD, Sever depression, and Anxiety disorder. She has missed a lot of school because of it. She is trying to keep up with her school work, the teachers have been very good about helping her out. The principal says she is doing fine, but because of her absenses, even though most of them have had doctors excuses, said his goal is for her to get her diploma but that she will NOT be allowed to walk with her class at graduation. She has passed her OGT’s just fine, and is keeping decent grades, how can they keep her from graduating with her class. She has missed out on a lot because of her problems, (passing out due to stress, having seizure like episodes, etc.) why punish her more? Can they keep her from graduating with her class?


Does anyone address the lack of instruction time these student’s are missing? What about students that have to go to the doctor or hospital visit on a regular basis? One district stated that a student could not have full inclusion four days a week and home/hospital for one day so that he could receive treatment at the hospital. Does this seem right?


Thank you for this info. I have a daughter in a similar situation. I am currently in the process of putting a 504 Plan in place.

I believe there needs to be stronger legislation for children who miss school due to chronic illnesses. A 504 plan is NOT enough and it does NOT protect them. My daughter suffers from chronic migraine headaches and was an “A” student until she began missing school due to her migraines.

Suddenly she was getting “F’s” for non-participation due to missing school because of her illness. She was willing to do make-up or alternate assignments but this was not good enough for the teachers at her high school. She was given a “C” in a class she clearly earned an “A” in due to “lack of participation” and a teacher bullying her.

If there was a law that would protect kids with chronic illnesses, it might make a huge difference for their future. How does giving them failing grades help them to be successful in school?

We had the same issue in the 1990s. I was required to EXIT my daughter from the public LAUSD school she attended and ENTER her into a Home/Hospital school (with new teachers) each time she had pneumonia and atelectasis from chronic lung disease. It was an academic nightmare. She missed her friends, missed her curriculum, had gaps in knowledge (remediated only in college years later) and learned to hate school because she was penalized for missing “too much” — I was threatened by truancy law violation.

We elected to remove her from that hostile school district. She attended college when she left public school and earned a diploma years later.

What a punitive experience it is to parent a wonderful child who is mistreated by the educational establishment! I hope it has changed by now. She had an IEP. Useless.

I work at a nonprofit in central California. A client is experiencing difficulty getting a good program for her high schooler because she is only able to go to school a few hours a day because she is recovering from a critical illness (and it may return). She needs AP courses that are not offered at the online program they want to send her to. She does not have an IEP or 504. Any information you can point us to?

Don’t forget that children with chronic health conditions and/or temporary disabilities are entitled under most state laws to homebound or hospital instruction. These children do not have to have an IEP or a 504 Plan. Homebound instruction can be accomplished through a home to school internet connection like Skype. This does not isolate the child as does typical homebound instruction. They can interact just like other childre who are present in the classroom. Many schools and families already have the available setup. All they need to do is provide the child with a notebook computer and an internet connection if the family does not have either. Check your state’s laws and you may see that the child who misses lots of school may be able to participate even if they cannot attend school.


My son had an IEP since he started school. Once we found out he had bipolar disorder we notified the school that the diagnosis explained his behavior and it was noted in his IEP and we had no problems until he went to middle school. They said he was too smart to have an IEP and they did not recognize Bipolar Disorder as having need for an IEP. I tried to get an OHI or 504 but they still
Say he doesn’t qualify. We have recently changed his medicines and they have done quite a number on his stomach. He spends a lot of time in the bathroom. They have started putting him in after school suspension because of his missed time from class. The school won’t listen to me and won’t do anything! I don’t think it’s fair that because my child is smart he should be punished because of his disease!


My daughter has been absent from school over 20 times so far this year. She does not have a chronic illness but has been hit with many sicknesses. She had Pneumonia over the summer and she seems to catch everything that goes around. We had an IEP meeting and she is currently being tested at school for learning disabilities. Our follow up IEP meeting is in a few weeks. I am afraid they may not provide services because of her absences. I am also afraid they may hold her back. What are our rights?


My 14 year old son is very depressed. Just recently he has been getting very upset about going to school, to the point that he has panic attacks when he know he has to go. We are having him evaluated, the school is giving us a very hard time because he is missing a lot of school. He gets good grades and is not trouble maker, he is a great kid. Can I request a short leave of absence until we get this under control? No, he is not being bullied but, he doesn’t have one friend. And is just so sad all the time, I just can’t send him to school like that.


I was wondering if Asthma falls under the chronic illness law that is talked about on this website. Iam having some trouble with the schools and my child not being able to attend pe class due to her asthma. I need to know what her rights are and I want her to be protected from the teacher “bullying” her when she cant run like the other kids!!!! Please help us!!!!


My daughter has RND. She was doing fine until her teacher decided that nothing was wrong with her and didn’t need to follow her 504 plan. This teacher went against the 504 plan doing things causing my daughter to have an episode which this time hit her the muscles around her lungs. She is having very bad anxiety attacks but only with this one teacher. I have gone all the way to the board about this problem. I am not getting any help with it. I now have to go to this one class everyday and sit with her just to keep her calm. I need to know what my next options are. Please, I need help……


Thank you so much for the information on this site. It answered alot of my questions. My daughter who is in 3rd grade now has been sick now for 3 years and is still undiagnosed. she has recurrent fevers for 5 days a month and misses those days of school and that does not include her doctors visits. 504 or iep. Thank you again


Iv had stomach problems for about two years now and I’m goin to a specialist to see what is casing me to have so much pain and this means me missing school to find out what’s rong but they said they won’t exsuse my absent day because of the new law can they do that. Iv got good grades A’s and B’s I do all my make up work. I just don’t see how they can’t make it excused because I go to the doctor.


Re: Tardiness – My only concern is that a child with as aspergers needs a routine. I would not keep a child home if they are upset. Don’t allow that pattern to start. He should be at school. Why? You may be setting yourself up for battles as he gets older. If the pattern continues, it will become increasingly difficult for him and you.
My other concern is that the school should work with you on a behavior plan that can assist you instead of calling juvenile detention. He needs to learn skills outside off your home to learn to relax,transition to school, etc. Is there a behavior therapist In the district to help you? Sometimes our kids can manipulate us.


I wanted to add to my child’s IEP plan the option to excuse his tardies and missed days and they told me that I could not do that. My son as asbergers syndrome and thereare days when he is upset and I keep him home maybe half the day to relax him or just keep him out. we do his homework and he is an AB student in the 3rd grade. We have recently been reported to the juvenile court system. They changed the school times from 8:15 to 8:00 and the kids are tardy after 8:00, which took a long time for him to adjust to the change. The other thing is the absent policy changed from 10 to only 6 absent times a year. What can I do to make things work for us?


I am having a transportation issue and the school is telling me accomodations for transportation cannot be included in my daughters 504 plan.
When we moved here 2 years ago (TX) bussing was provided by the district. Just before this year started they claimed that bussing had to be cut from the budget and families would now have to pay $180 per semester/per student. As a single parent of 4 kids and the expenses of a child with multiple chronic illnesses, I can’t even keep the utilities on every month, so I can’t afford anything “extra”. We are about a mile away so they have told her to walk. Three of her illnesses include Crohns, Asthma/Pulmonary disease and Arthritis. While it might be possible for her on occasion to walk, there is no way she can physically do it everyday both ways.
Can I make them provide bussing for her through 504?


wow im not alone in my fight, i congratulate the young man for coming back and educating himself to help people that are on this journey of heartache! good luck. my 8 year old son has been in a 8 year battle and just got diagnosis, 5 of them as a matter of fact. so to UNC i say in your face im not munchhousin (however you spell it) mom and my son does not have a psychological problem! to the parents out there fighting for their kids i say dont give up! God bless


I was this student when I was in high school.

I suffered from undiagnosed chronic illnesses for nearly 3 years. The symptoms of my heart condition and brain tumor were debilitating and kept me from school on a regular basis. Our school district never once suggested a 504 plan or that we add it on to the IEP I had for being a gifted student. My family had to fight tooth and nail to even get a parent teacher conference to discuss my situation, and even then, there was absolutely no support. Once my conditions were diagnosed, I worked very hard to become healthy and achieved straight A’s as I did before my illness. I have become an advocate for supporting students with chronic illnesses and am earning a degree in Music Education. To all of you who are experiencing this, keep fighting and know that you’re not alone.


Today my son was dressed and ready for school but didn’t want to go because he was told that he would have detention if he were late.. We were also told by the attendance office that we needed a letter from my son’s doctor explaining that he had a chronic illness. His illness and accommodations for tardies and absences are clearly stated in his IEP program paperwork. The school should not need any further explanation or paperwork. We were told that the school is just not paying attention to the the plan that is already in place. This is a constant battle but worth it for my son’s education and well being. This information was very helpful. Thank you


My daughter attends a Charter School in California. School handbook allows for doctors and parents excuses for children that are sick. My daughter has asthma. This particular week she was admitted to hospital emergency room at 3:00 AM. until 7:00 AM. We kept her home with doctors excuse 3 days and 7 days due to her asthma. All absences were called in on a daily basis. My daughter missed work in all her classes. The school called a meeting with us and said she must do the make up work. All teachers agreed except one. Her English/History/core teacher stated I don’t do make-up work. In the classes that allowed the makeup she passed. The school failed my daughter would not allow her to graduate with the class or attend any school functions concerning graduation. Did not give her a promotion. Would not allow her on campus.


hello, my daughter last yr was diagnosed with what they call a “mild” case of scoliosis. She started having severe pain & numbness in her lower back & legs. i have taken her to the dr & orthopedic dr. they both have said that she is okay this should not affect her. Well she wakes up mornings so uncomfortable & in so much pain that she honestly has missed alot of school, especially when we first found out. Well its come to the point that dr.’s will not give her any limitations cause they say its not severe. The school is now harassing not only me, but my daughter is being harrassed in class by her teachers, and they continue to humiliate her in front of students. There is family history of hip-leg perthes disease my Younger Bro at 16 & myself at 24 this yr at the age of 32 have had hip- replacements, which has been ruled out what can i do?


Should I have points taken off my grade because I wasn’t in class DUE TO A DIABETES DR APPT? I have a 504 Plan in place, but one teacher doesn’t seem to want to follow it. What should I do?


Our problem is similar, but not entirely. My brother is in 12th grade, he was supposed to have only half a year left to graduate, but the school told us he has to attend an entire year to do so because of absences from the year before. Every single absence was excused. My brother gets horrible allergies (just like our father) and other times it was for the flu. Each time we’d call the school and inform them, they told us it was better for him to stay home to prevent other kids at school from getting sick. We did keep him home based upon that fact and that he couldn’t even get out of bed. Now, he’s being punished by having credits withheld! We’re talking about a kid who panics when he can’t be at school because “something important” was happening that day. Now it’s contracts, no grad if 3+ absences?! Help!


I’m 17 years old. I’ve always had heath problems since the 5th grade, I’m a junior in high school now. I have a thyroid problem that is controlled but with the pills I have to take them & wait a half an hour to eat my breakfast in the morning before school. It comes to be very hard & stressfull to not have the time to eat breakfast & get sick. But before this for 3 years now I’ve always felt sick in mournings & sometimes during school when I would have to then leave & then go home. Someone walks by me & i they have a cold. I more then likey will get it somehow & be out of school for a few days. I try & try to make up work as best I can. I have never failed a class. I even did the can program at my school. I strive to succed. But what gets me down is that when I need to make up make my teachers look at it as another excuse.504 plan for me?


My daughter is a type 1 diabetic that has a 504 in place as of 2010. The school said a letter from parent on absences would be fine in place of a Dr note. These notes have been lost and they are sending us to truancy court in May. I offered to resend notes for the missed days but they say the notes need to be in with in 3 days of the absence. This is not stated on the 504. They also said they are removing her from the 504 because they dont have a annual Dr note. From what I have leaned there is no expiration date on the 504 and the 3 day note policy should not apply to us since it was not in the 504…am I correct? We are beyond upset for the fase our daughter will have to appear in court. She is a nervous wreck.. She is a good kid and shouldnt have to do this..Thank you in advance


My daughter has juvenile diabetes and has missed alot of days also she also suffers from Chronic Migraines and they are trying to say she is truant also. She was sick last week and kept telling her nurse and the nurse sent her back to class and put a trash can beside her. That is WRONG! All because she has missed alot and she dont feel like she needed to go home. Well when my child came home she threw up the rest of the weekend.. Something has to be done to protect children with disablilities from this!


My daughter is in 8th grade. She has many depression problems due to some unfortunate event. She was missing alot of school, and the school was working with me. Then she tried to commit suicide and was in a mental hospital, and then in daily therapy. She has now been with a homebound teacher for a month. She has all F in her general education classes, and they are going to retain her. Can they make her repeat 8th grade even though her absensces were due to a mental illness?


When i was younger I had the same problem and still do now as I am entering college.

I would talk to the school nurse. She will be your best advocate. Once the school and your daughter’s doctors are on the same page, it will make her life and your life a little better 🙂


I am an unemployed Special Education teacher. My neighbor’s daughter has severe chronic seizure brought on by stress and has a 504. She has missed whole weeks of school due to her illness. The teachers in her gen. ed. classes are rude and degrading toward the student for the time she misses, pointing it out in class. She feels much abused by the school district. Her mother was wondering if I could home school her or if there was something else I could do to help her daughter graduate high school.


I am a parent of a special needs child who is enrolled in special education at a public school. Her dxs are ODD and PTSD. How do I deal with “truancy” dilemmas when she is not physically ill? Part of going to this particular school for her is having to hear children crying and screaming because of being secluded and restrained. This is a BIG trigger for her as it relates to her PTSD. She also has a physical education teacher who is an idiot. How can I help deal with her refusal to go to school when she is mentally/emotionally a mess? Any suggestions, references, resources, or experiences that anyone could share with me would be so appreciated!


My son has many health issues and has many plans in affect for his severe asthma and allergies.He also is diabetic with high blood pressure.He has missed alot of days and I was taken to court for truancy.The judge didn’t consider that he had an asthma plan or other accommodation recommended by other doctors.Now he is on a 3 month probation and has no unexcused but a lot of days missed.I cannot get the school to give me missed work so he can get caught up and this will not look good when we go to court. I was recently told my son was eligible for an IEP and 504 plan but I feel the school is not going to help and I will and my son will be punished for his sicknesses.What do I do I need help before December 19 to get him caught up in school.


My name is Crystal. I have a kid who is 13. Since school started he has missed a lot of days. He has asthma and bronchitis. It is hard for him to breathe. He is on 2 inhalers. When we send him to school, he calls home and we don’t know what to do.


My son has “Acute Asthma.” He misses a lot of school during the winter months due to both asthma attacks and at least one lung affection, which causes him to miss at least two weeks of schooling, wherein he must be admisistered breathing treatments at home, or in the “ER,” in either November, and or December of every school year so far. Eventhough he had/has written medical excuses provided to the school each time, his RSP instructors give him a grade of “F” because of school work missed while to ill to attend. What is the solution?

Cathy M

Question– one of our local school districts (I work for our local Arc) has made a blanket policy that children who leave school for therapies will not have excused absences. There is a huge shortage of therapists in our area, and getting appointments during the after school hours is difficult. Also the shortage means that the children are frequently not getting the therapy listed in their IEP’s. Is this an issue that families should be working out in their IEP’s? Aren’t therapies (PT, OT, SLP)considered a medical service? (they can still go to other doctor appoinments)