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. My daughter is pregnant and she has missed alot of school days because of it. They are trying to take me to court.Can they do this? Please help! Asap

  2. I have four children but I have three with IEP. All my children are different, they get sick for different reasons so I won’t send them too school. I know what’s wrong with my child so I keep them here. If they are sick and I send them to school, I’m doing wrong. If I keep my kid’s home, I’m still doing wrong. I could never make anyone happy. They don’t understand – they want the children in school no matter what. They came to my house. This Friday I have a meeting. Please someone help me. I don’t want too lose my children. I have done everything for my children. The frustration just breaks my heart. Thank you for listening.

  3. My daughter is in college studying education. Last summer (2012) she had a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and it has been documented in her school’s office of disability. However, she does not have an IEP or 504 since she is 23. She was hoping to complete her student teaching closer to her doctors and several of her doctors at home wrote letters requesting student teaching closer to home. Her college does offer external student teaching, however she was denied the opportunity to do her teaching externally even with several doctors notes and complaint letters. I was wondering if this is legal and something we can petition due to her rights with having a TBI. We would be willing to fight for her to do her teaching closer to her doctors. PLEASE let me know! Thank you!

  4. Please help us my 13 year old son suffers from fibromyalgia. He missed a lot of school he has a 504 but now the courts have charged parents with education neglect judge asked for Dr note saying when on pain meds not to attend school. PLEASE PLEASE HELP ME

  5. My son, age 7, has been diagnosed with severe A.D.H.D. & O.D.D. He had been in a Maria Montessori teaching environment since the age of 3 and is now enrolled in a Preparatory School in South Carolina. He is lagging behind, biting his nails, picking at his lips and he is being “yelled at” constantly by his teacher. It is a heart-breaking factor in having to medicate your child, but shouldn’t there be some sort of lenience in this type of transition? What can I do?

  6. Breneh- The school handbook IS for your son. The 504 plan is to accommodate him and should be applied to his situation. If I were you, I would find a way to e-mail all teachers when he is absent.

    Set up your e-mail so that you are notified when it is read. Specifically ask teachers what day assignments are due when he misses school.

  7. My son has a 504 plan in place and has missed several days due to a chronic health condition. The school does not want to accommodate make-up work and keeps referring to the policy of the school handbook. I’ve repeatedly reminded them that the school handbook was designed for the general student population and not those with special needs. Yesterday, the assistant principal threatened to take away my son’s open lunch, because of missed assignments from the days he was out. My son had 1 poor grade and that was in art, because he was having difficulty trying to keep up with the assignments due to the nature of the class. All of his other classes were A’s & B’s. Instead of figuring out how to improve upon his existing 504 plan, they want to punish him.

  8. My children do not have any type of IEP nor chronic illness but has missed several days of the school year 2012/2013. All the days missed was excused by their primary doctor but the school is refusing to count the notes. They both passed with flying colors. The school now has me in court trying to put me in jail for 22 days cause that’s the number of days they missed. One had kidney stones the other had upper respiratory and breathing issues with constant fever. Is there anything at all I can do to prevent jail time and this charge on my record? I’ve hired a attorney but its not gotten me anywhere. Please help

  9. my child has been in special education classes since 1st grade now in 7th grade and I am just finding out that the school have to perform any type of tests that I ask for. I had been asking all last school year to test him for ADD and dyslexia and they kept telling us it wasn’t a necessity to perform these types of tests. they still will not help him get any higher than a second grade education. we are not happy with this school system and are going to be fighting with them until this is all fixed! I am looking up the state laws that deal with this and forcing them to do as we ask this year!

  10. I am a teacher who is trying to do research on how much time a child misses because of illness and various issues. My school district, county, or state will not give me these numbers. I am not asking for names. It is so frustrating. I am trying to make a change for children in my district with illnesses. I am putting together a proposal and I can not get any information. I sit on a foundation who wants to use the VGo robot in schools so that children who are in hospital can attend school in real time. It is an amazing and innovative way of solving the problem. I just can not find the support.

  11. Kathie, My son was on an OHI IEP & the school put scholastic accommodations on it as needed along with items for his ADHD. It sounds like the school cannot & should not be refusing your request. YOu should request that they put the reason for refusal in writing called “Prior Written Notice” which is required when a school refuses requested services via an IEP.

  12. Nancy- I am in the same boat with my 17yo daughter in CT. For the second year they have taken class credit away from my daughter because she did not finish the entire class during the school year. This year they said they would provide pre-calc tutor after taking 2 class’s credits away and now saying no money. She has a 504 but even though covered under IDEA for chronic illness and OHI, they will not provide IEP/special ed because she is too bright. What do we do???

  13. My 17yr old daughter has a 504 i since 2008, b/o of multiple systemic autoimmune diseases. Despite multiple medical absences, she’s always been able to keep up and has a 4.0 cum GPA. Unfortunately, Jan, developed neurotoxicity from chemo meds (been on for 5 yrs ) now dramatic change in cognitive abilities. Provided school w/ thorough documentation to support her condition. Unable to complete her 2nd semester. Now weaned off toxic drug, w/some improvement. School promised she could make up classes in districts summer school.. Now saying “NO Funds to pay Teachers” she’ll have to graduate late. My daughter is devastated.

    My ?- isn’t the school mandated by 504 to accommodate these needs? The stress is causing great emotional stress & sadness to my daughter who only wants a chance to succeed despite serious health challenges/disabilities.

  14. To Ron (from 10/23/12) My son is schooled at home. There are options for you to provide the same education at home and depending the one you pick it can be for free. This will allow for you to have short sessions at the computer vs. all day in a brick and mortar school setting. Hope things work out for you. Check with K12 or Connections Academy and see if one of these are offered in your state. Also if a child has an IEP for example it will follow them in one of these schools.

  15. D.T.M. Do you have a parent or other adult that can help you in this situation? My son is dyslexic & was not graduating in the traditional sense due to the school not meeting his IEP goals & was continuing school for another year but they let him walk with his class as well as other disabled students. I see no reason why you cannot do the same. Is it possible for you to get an incomplete on the classes you are low on & finish in the summer but still walk with the class? Is there a way you can get help from your physician due to the illness?

  16. I’m a student in high school. I have no control over my sicknesses. I’ve been sick, injured, and over stressed. When it’s hard for me to go to school I still try my hardest to go. My grades in school are outstanding. I tried really hard but not matter what I do it feels like it’s never good enough. If I’m sick my school tells me to come to school and check in but I’m not a little girl anymore. If I’m really sick they’ll have to send me home, but all I do at home is lay down and go to sleep so why leave my school to stay in a house that’s crazy. There’s no need for me to ditch so don’t treat me like that’s what I’m doing. I would miss out on days were I find out ahead of time that my classes don’t do anything or its movie time. I have students who have my back will help me out with the days I miss. They keep me on task, let me know what I missed, and they even let me copy there notes so I can keep up. I was just confronted about missing class by a teacher that’s new and he has no idea what I been threw and what I am going through. He should help me worry about my grades then my attendance that’s the attendance person job. I have asked for helped by my teacher and he did nothing. I feel that it’s not fare. It feels like school for me and work for them. The staff have more freedom then I do even if it two more weeks in for graduation. I need help. I want to walk for graduation but if you miss a lot of school you can’t walk but it’s not my fault I was sick a lot I couldn’t help it. What should I do? Who should I talk to about this situation?

  17. Can a school UTI(Universal Technical Institute) with draw me from a class for being ill in the hospital? They said because i missed more then 10 hours of class that i have to re-take the course even tho i’m in the hospital. To me that seems very un-lawful.

  18. Can a student that has no parents at home and has worked at night have any way to walk with class even though they are lacking a part of one English class?

  19. My daughter has Down Sydrome, ASD, and is medically fragile.She has frequent absences because of illnesses and appointments. She often has shortened school days. This is how we handle it:
    1. An IEP category of Other-Health Impairments.
    2. thorough medical history and detailed parental concern sections.
    3. An annual documented discussion about her attendance.
    4. A generic note from her pedi at the start of each year stating she will have frequent absences and tardies due to her fragile health and appointments, then I also provide the usual notes as we go along.
    5. I Email reminders about regular appointments in advance.

    My challenge was getting ESY because her disability made her miss so much instructional time that I felt it was limiting her access to FAPE. We got ESY!

  20. My child has multiple allergies (dust, mold, mildew, dander, grass, trees, leaves—lethal tree nuts allergies, just found out about a shellfish allergy and now being tested for more like dairy ex.) psoriasis, nail psoriasis, arthritis (psoriatic), migraines and now he’s being checked for possible Crohn”s disease or ulcerative colitis. He’s been really sick, missed quite a few days, most are all covered with medical excuses but there are 7 days listed as unexcused. When he gets sick I can’t send him to school and I can’t always get him into a doctor either so what am I to do? His family prac. say they can’t see him every time, that I’m to take him to one of his specialist, I can’t get in one of them on short notice so now what?

    I called to set up an appointment with our Super. 2 1/2 weeks ago. He just doesn’t really seem to care and I still haven’t gotten my appointment. I’ve received my second letter treating a $300 fine due to these 7 unexcused days. Saw his Gastro. Dr. 3 days ago. They (as well as the other Drs.) don’t cover days that the child was not seen in their office. He told me to speak with the Super. but I can’t get him. Some of my sons conditions are getting a little better now that we have some forms of treatment but he still gets sick (vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, PAIN, and severe headaches) buy times. I must Drs. excuses for ANY absent days. They don’t seem to care. I NEED HELP!!!

  21. model 504 would be cover for child that has seizures..and if so how would you get that child on that plan.

  22. My daughter has been going to doctor appointments and missing a lot of days for school because she has a stomach problem she has no 504 plan because this illness was never a big problem until her senior year and currently she has pretty good grades for missing all the school she has she is passing. What do I do about the school trying to say she cannot graduate because she has no plan or anything?

  23. My son had TYPE 1 diabetes and IBS to name a few he has some tests next month to see what else he has. He has missed school most with Dr excuses and I am being threaten with truancy. His grades are B ‘s and C’s and has NO complaints from teachers . He has been told he is one of the brightest. He as sufferers from high blood sugar , low (to include many other issues with type one). I am being threaten if he does not stay after 3 days a week! and that he is in 30% now how can a student be at 30% with B’s n C’s?? also he was accused of missing his stay after study TODAY jan 31 13 when school was canceled!!!! what does one do??~Tina

  24. My daughter has a terminal illness that complicates her entire body and all organs. She has only half of her brain and very limited on what can be learned. Her disease is metabolic so she reacts different to illnesses. If there is a virus going around I keep her home. A small cough from one child can send mine to the PICU for weeks. I have started receiving letters about her missing days. The school says they have to send them out but they won’t refer it. My daughter has been deteriorating since November and has had two surgeries. She is going to be spending more time in the hospital before school lets out. Is there a way to protect terminal children from the laws? I don’t want them to take my child away to have her pass not being with her siblings and parents. PLEASE HELP!

  25. My son has Scheuremann’s Disease which causes disabling back pain during growth spurts and very cold weather. It also causes him to have difficulty breathing and sometimes he will just collapse while walking as his legs give out on him. He does decently well in school, makes up all work. I have given the school notes from the doctor prior to school beginning and have had gotten doc’s notes for absences. His PCM is at the Air Force Academy and they look at you like you are stupid and wasting their time when you go just to get a note. Today, the Dean called and said to be expecting a truancy letter and mentioned truancy court. I have to physically pull my 15 yr old, 5’9″, 200 pound son out of bed while he is crying out in pain for school. He takes celebrex and Norco for pain. I am at a loss as to what to do.

  26. Every child has the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education by law. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a health, mental, physical or behavioral/emotional issue. If it impedes the child’s learning and functioning, the school is responsible for providing services to meet the individual child’s needs! A child does not need to be failing in order to receive services either. Document everything. Regarding the health plan….the medical issue doesn’t stop when the child walks into school, correct? The plan at minimum should be mentioned in the IEP I would think. The IEP should clearly define the person who is responsible for the care and monitoring of the child while at school. There should also be a very clear plan for communication between home and school.

  27. My 15 year old nephew or my sister (his grandmother) has custody of is enrolled in alternative school, he is in 9th grade. He actually passes all test but he simply cannot sit in a classroom. He is an IEP student and has ADHD and ADD. His files I believe state that is is not able to be in classrooms, he has severe anxiety and does whatever to be thrown out of class. Last year is was on home study and they are not offering that now, and today think it best that he quit school and attend a bootcamp and get his GED, homestudy worked very well last year. What should we do?

  28. My son has had Diabetes Type 1 for the past 2 & 1/2 years…the schools have filed truancy on me every year. As a parent of a sick child, I wish that the schools would have more compassion & wisdom in dealing w/ kids w/ a Chronic Illness. We live in Texas- does the 504 Plan apply to children residing in Texas as well?

  29. My child was diagnosed with PTSD after our family lost everything in a house fire. The initial appointment was by recommendation of the school principal after your child had to be picked up from school several times because she was so upset. Upon the diagnosis her pediatrician made her an appointment with a psychiatrist. However the psychiatrist was unable to see her for about ten days. Meanwhile, the pediatrician sent all the appropriate paperwork to the school board to have her put on home bound. The superintendent of the school refused to do so and has counted her absent for each day she has missed. The superintendent also called social services and reported that my child was sick and was not recieving appropriate medical treatment. Can she legally deny the home bound and was she out of line to call social services.

  30. My school system just served me with a summons to appear in court for “refusing to send my children to school”..based on significant absences they had accumulated during the school year. BOTH children have 504 plans – one for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome hypermobility type, ,depression, anxiety disorder, ADHD and OCD and the other for Ehlers-danlos Syndrome, hypermobility type. The process literally went from one meeting in MAY where the social worker forced us to sign a compliance agreement to being served in June for my kids having more subsequent absences. (which WERE health related). My son was in the gifted program and a Presidential Award for Academic Excellence recipient. His grades only suffer when he misses due to health issues and the school treats his absences like they are a choice, and he just just being truant. What can we do???

  31. i recently fund my 13year old son have tb, is any way posible he can still going to school, or he have to be on a iferent program, any body know what can i do this is in the brownsville, texas thanks for the help…

  32. I am looking for help from anyone who has a child with a chronic illness who misses a lot of school. My daughter has lupus, and we have been fighting the school system for years to give her accommodations. She has none, except “seperate testing” which does not even relate to her illness or help at all. They denied our request to allow classes to be recorded so she does not miss content. They denied out request for tutoring to help her catch up when she is out for a certain number of days. They denied her having exams be modified. We even went to state mediation and it did absolutely nothing. She is getting D’s on her report card, and she is NOT a D student! She is in high school now and we have been battling this since she was in 4th grade. Now her chances of college admittance are waning and its not fair. Help please, anyone??

  33. My daughter has been pretty sick last year and finished the year being home bound. This year she was better enough to go to school although she usually had a very bad cold and a low fever , sore throat and nausea but went the same hanging in there. Until she dislocated her patella, that was the last straw on the camels back and she became more run down, to the point she missed to many days and especially early classes. As she would rest, fell stronger and better and get in for the remainder of the classes. Then she tore her hamstring.
    She had a half year civics class, the teacher gave her a ninety-five for the paper but than realized it was in two hours late in the electronic mail, she had to resend it in a different format he dropped her grade to a 35 and failed her for the year
    She is has now exceeded the amount of absences.

  34. My son has to pay sit time recover for his absences. I’m in a homeless program and cant afford to pay days he’s missed. My son is in highschool and he has narcolepsy, netrapena, eczema, adhd, asthma, reflux, allergic rhinitis, gastritius. How can this work for him? What else can I do to stop this? His 504 list all his medical history but Im still having to pay for Sit-Time recover.

  35. My child has cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome. I home schooled last year because she kept getting sick in school. She was healthy as a horse last year. This year we thought school would be good since she had gotten stronger with her health. That has not been the case. Everytime I send her to school she is febrile and sick five days later. She has been admitted to the hospital this year after picking up illnesses in school. I want her on homebound status because they cannot figure out how to keep her fragile immune system from contacting viruses. She is developmentally delayed and like a toddler with things in her mouth constantly. The school’s position is that she has to go to school and get sick each time to qualify for homebound services. This shortens her life. How do other students handle fragile immune systems?

  36. This is a huge problem in Staunton, Virginia. The schools here have started overenforcing the compulsory attendance laws in the last two years (a 1900% increase in prosecutions between 2009-10 and 2010-11 which shows no sign of abating). They are vindictive towards parents whose children miss school due to illness, lose notes and prosecute even after they’re provided with copies of the notes, and act in a hostile and unprofessional manner not only towards parents, but towards the children themselves when they return to school. Please take a look at our website, http://pisste.org, for data and information. If you live in the area, please get in touch with us for support and to see how you can fight back.

  37. I myself am being penalized for absence. I suffer from Juvenile Fibromyalgia, but do not yet have a 504 Plan. My local DOE representative has contacted the school, but has no jurisdiction over it (it is an out-of-town private school). Some accommodations have been made, but these are not enough to truly help me, and the school’s attitude is putative in terms of academics for myself. What are my rights in the private school system in the State of New York and/or City of New York?

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