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. What can I do if my son school district keeps sending us harassing letter about my son missing so many school days? My son has a kidney disease call Focal Segment Al Glomasitis. FSGs and his school keeps sending harassing letters about him missing to much schools. He has a health plan.

  2. Jill, You need to request, in writing, that the school develop a 504 Plan (preferably) or Health Plan for your daughter. In your letter, describe your child’s medical condition and problems (seizures). Attach a copy of the neurologist’s report. Ask that the Plan incorporate her doctor’s recommendations.

    The school’s plan needs to be in writing. Every staff member who works with your child should have a copy of her 504 Plan or Health Plan. Be sure to read the info on this page about written health plans for children: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/parents-and-kids/diabetes-care-at-school/written-care-plans/

    If you don’t have confidence in your ability to write a good letter to the school, use our tutorial on “Advocating Through Letter Writing” – it will help you get up and running. https://www.wrightslaw.com/nltr/11/ss.short.course.htm

    • Thank You Pam, We requested that the school update the IHP to reflect the newly written Seizure Action Plan but the school refused, crossing off the Dr’s directions in the document! School would not commit to aides communicating with us and would only offer a “staff” at the school –likely unfamiliar with our daughter to relay the information we needed( HIPPA violation?). I discovered that there are no laws that govern IHP’s. There are only recommendations from the US Dept of Ed that the IHP be reviewed yearly. After several letters documenting this ridiculous experience to the superintendent and the school board members, describing what had happened, the district ultimately provided a 1:1 nurse.

  3. Our school will not follow the health plan outlined by the neurologist which states that the aides will contact us by phone with a description of our daughter’s seizure, time of the seizure and the length.
    The school does have a “School Cell Phone” which can be used if the aides don’t want to use theirs. Having a 3rd party call us with this information will not work as they did not see the seizure and we cannot ask that person the questions we need to accurately document the seizure and make next step decisions. Our daughter’s seizures are not severe but are frequent and we have letters from 2 docs and forms from the Epilepsy Clinic. She does not need a nurse-we only need a description of the seizure and a general check in afterward.

  4. I think all parents on here having issues with truancy really need to explore home schooling. And the kids that im seeing on here having issues with their schools need to talk to their parents about home schooling them. Im contemplating the same thing.

    • so true besides schools are not teaching correctly that’s why 18 year olds are unable to make change for a dollar with out doing coremath

  5. Help. I’m going today to file a complaint and am going to ask the doctor for a note to get the 504 plan. The principal is not working with me. Now she says my child cannot go to camp because he’s too sick. I need help.

  6. My son is in 4th grade and every time he is sick he goes to the nurse who then calls me then my dad to come pick him up from school when he has a low grade fever like 99.5 or 100.6. The nurse then tells my father that he has to stay home for 24 hours until he can come back to school that it’s policy. I read our school handbook front to back and no where in there does it say the child has to stay home for 24 hours. Does that mean if no policy in the handbook then there is no policy at all and they don’t have the right to send my child home?

  7. I am a child with really bad stomach problems and a lot of missed school but the teachers are thinking that I am doing on purpose

  8. It seems that most schools even with a 504 Plan can send you to a court for truancy. Parents educate yourself about the law. Bring ALL documentation to Court. Present your information. I have seen all parents be faced with their children ‘s truancy because of their physical or mental issues. Schools do this to try to make up for the money they lose for the child’s absence. Learn how to present your case which should be dismissed, and go against the Judge who even takes your case. You win if dismissed and should not have to pay the Court costs. File charges against the school for using your child’s absences against them. Retaliation is usually a felony in most jurisdictions. Use your knowledge of the law against the school. and the Court. Parents can get slapped with a Criminal Class B Misdemeanor if you are not prepared.

  9. Just moved to GA. Child gets sick from allergies and the germs she picks up at school from other kids. She misses 10 days due to a severe ear infection and now the county has sent the truant officer after me. Her teacher is pressuring her to do more and more make up work and has failed her for the work she could not finish during the time she was away. She had a fever over 100 for 10 days straight! Social worker accuses me of being a bad parent because I let her stay home from school when she is sick and threatens that she won’t be able to get into college. She is only in the 5th grade! I am appalled. They would prefer to keep sick kids in school so that the petty bureaucrats can have “bums on seats” to keep their jobs. They are not interested in the care or education of our children.

  10. Okay, so lately I has been missing a lot of school. I get sick really easily. And I’m one of four kids and when one gets sick, we all get sick. I have missed about 10 or less days of school this year. I have already missed 2 this week because I have the flu. My mom called my school to tell them I was sick and they started talking about truancy officers. I’m a 6th grader in middle school and I’m scared. I’m scared that my teachers will be mad. I always make up my homework, but just the thought of truancy officers scares me. I have to admit, sometimes (I’m not faking), but I still could go to school (kinda sick). I have stopped doing that but I’m still scared. My homeroom teach got mad at me when I missed 15 min. of first period. Now I have an orthodontist appt. Any tips for school or life in general?

  11. Okay I have missed in total this year probably about 14 days of school. I have been sick for 3 weeks with mono and a teacher is refusing to giving me full time to do my missing assignments and is even not letting me make up the assignment at all. This is honestly childish and ridiculous. I can not control when I get better or worse I have been bed ridden all week and I think as a student I should get my rights. I am 13 years old and i dont appreciate being screamed at and treated like an adult by an adult. What do i do ?

  12. My son has to go to court for missing 10 days of school. But the School has doctors notes for over half of those days. Why does he still have to go to court for it. He had surgery on his ears.

  13. My child told me today that the school made him sign a paper stating that he was a witness that saw an incident that happen in school with 2 other kids that were not even from his class room, i am concern because my son is autistic and I had knowledge about this in to today because my son had such an anxiety that I ask him what was wrong and he told me ,Is this even legal for him to sign with out his parent know

  14. My son suffers from Migraines, gerd,& insomnia. Basically he wakes up with severe migraines. Last year(10th grade), he stopped attending school in December 2013. I went in for an IEP in January 2014. He was put in hospital homebound. He did most of his work for almost 2 semesters as paperwork slowed things down. He did not pass any core class for his 10th grade year because the school and teachers counted his time missed in 2012 as relevant to his grade. This year he started off as a 10th grader again. He attended school up until 3 weeks ago; when his migraines came back full force. His doctor works with us. We increased one medication and tried 2 immediate relief migraine medications ; which did not work. His doctor said she would fill out HH form. I feel lost after his experience last year. I live in small town FL. What to do?

  15. My daughter goes 4 hours to school to take her main courses. This is doctor recommendations based on her chronic condition. She isn’t on a IEP program because she takes her main courses at school and electives on FL virtual school since the RIP program doesn’t provide electives. The thing is Florida virtual is as or more demanding as regular school. She is always falling behind on school work. She is going through a period where her condition is unstable and her lymph nodes are getting swollen every two weeks making her go through nasty colds due to her stress. She is an over achiever. She isn’t a lazy student and right now she has all B’s but with a bunch of late work to turn in. I’m asking if is possible to take her electives away. The school says that’s not an option. They aren’t working with her. What I should do?

  16. My daughter has been to court already for “truancy”. In the first semester there was some “discipline” problem. She made up all the hours she had missed in school;it was my decision she made them up at the school even though the school offered to take into account the 2 hours of tutoring she was doing every day. The second semesters she has some real health problems. Altogether she was within the requirement in hours.
    I have all of the documents ready to show to court to have her case dismissed except the most important:the sheet signed by the teachers showing all the make up hours. Now the school is trying to say, don’t have it, don’t know about it. My daughter ended up being put on 6 months probation for no reason.The probation doesn’t bother me on itself except that it would be on her record and could be a problem.

  17. What do you do if you’ve requested a medical plan from the treating MD and they refuse to write one. I’ve asked two different doctors and they state that my sons needs should be taken care of in his IEP. Why would an MD be reluctant?

  18. My wife and I are both working parents. My son has had stomach issues for a few years now. We have taken him to childrens mercy and they scoped his stomach and found nothing just saying he has a slow digestive tract. He vomits up to 10 times a day. Our family doctor is in touch with his school, we even met with his teacher and principal. They said they would do what they can to help. He does not run any fever. In kindergarten and 1st/2nd grade we had no issues with the school. Now he is at a different school in the same district. They sent him home yesterday with extra homework and he asked why. The teacher said we were taking him somewhere. The principal decided to declare him Home bound! We have an appt in St.Louis to try to find the issue. Isn’t this discrimination and can they do this?

  19. My daughter is in the court system for truancy and we have proven by drs that she has anxiety and panic disorder but they are bullying us and threatening to still send her away. I need help. We are getting a 504 plan now but the courts are still not believing she has a problem.

  20. Hi, i am a stay at home mom for 2 reasons, firstly i have 3 beautiful children, all with medical conditions that make each of them miss A LOT of school each year. My 2 sons have a hereditary bone disease that they inherited from me (Multiple Hereditary Exostosis) My 15 year old son has been having 1-3 surgeries a year since 4th grade and actually has to attend a “cyber academy” for him to keep up in school. He used to dream of being an athlete since he learned to walk but this disease has robbed him of his dreams. I also have an 11 year daughter with epilepsy, migraines and hypoglycemia. My toddler just started a preschool for him to get speech and physical therapy. All 3 of my children need a laptop so they can keep up with school when they miss for their medical issues. My older children are both on 504’s and my toddler is on an IEP.

  21. Hello, my original post is 7Jennifer. I am curious to where do we find the responses? Secondly, After all that drama my 16 year old suddenly came down with a heart condition called POTS due to all the stress the school put her through.. I am now seeking a lawyer to show my daughter some justice. Any ideas are welcome! Thanks.

  22. My daughter is in kindergarten and she missed 20 days due to pneumonia. She had doctor excuse for all of them. She was in the hospital on machines for that time. But they are trying to hold her back. Now she’s an honor roll student. Can they old her back?

  23. my granddaughter has a 504 for chronic illness. She missed time because of this but did not go over the quota allowed. However at the end of the school day on Friday evening, 1 day before prom, she was advised she would not be allowed to attend prom because she had missed school. Because were unable to get through to the superintendent or The State Board of Education, she missed her prom. There is a real problem with the attendance officer keeping correct records. Of course she is heart broken. We intend to take this to the highest authority and feel that the responsible people be dealt with by the State Board of Education.

  24. My son has asthma and the school knows about it. He has missed more than 30 days of school. The school could care less if my son’s having an asthma attack. Last week they didn’t given him his medicine. I went to a sarb meeting for my older two (9,7) At the end of the meeting they mentioned my son, stating that in 13 days my son will be eligible for SARB intervention. His asthma is really bad. We have a asthma action plan. I wanted to know if that’s something like a 504 plan? What do I do to help my son? thank u

  25. My son has asthma and missed over 30 days school. they tell me I have to have doctor excuse every time. I have to get doctor orders for them with every thing and get a order over to school, then show them how to work his machine and count on them to make sure he had inhaler on play ground. He is being picked on on play ground while he had asthma attack, they did nothing. I went to my son’s school. no one saw me and I saw 4 kids picking on my son, shoved his face in snow bank and he got teeth knocked loose. I’m worried about school not doing their job. Now they won’t to fine me. what would you do next year? My son going to Christian school. Public school kids are mean to kids with special needs and medical problems Parents, what would you do?


    Middle school student denied access back into school after being out sick and having surgery. The student was being treated and under doctors care. The school has harassed our family with residency verifications after dropping him while he was out sick. He has been released over a month but still will not allow him to get back to school And provide him with a quality & proper education. It’s outrageous!!! This breaking constitutional right and breaking privacy laws. I had to contact my attorney & we are prepared to take this to congress if we have to!!! This is completely out of control! We demand justice!!!

  27. My son has type 1 diabetes. There is a specific form that we are suppose to fill out (for Texas) to excuse him from excessive absences and tardies due to his diabetes. I can’t seem to find the form…can anyone out there help me?

  28. My 16 yr old has had recurrent health problems documented by her Physician. Last year while on Independent study she missed 5 days, approved and rescheduled by her Teacher. They took me to court and could care less about her illnesses and insisted she be put into their business academy. She attended for 5 days and her Dr put her back on home hospital schooling for the rest of the year! So, Back on independent study, she has been working hard as usual and got sick again, called the teacher and approved and rescheduled, informed to bring work next scheduled chk in. Well, she was diagnosed with the flu, bacterial tonsilitis and ear infection and they threatened me they are just going to drop her so I don’t get arrested? I called the district and was informed they dropped her right after court! I was accused of lying and humiliated.

  29. can a school charge you with truancy even if you have a doctors note for most of the absences? my daughter got threatened with that today by the principal of her school. she has migranes, gets bronchitis, and has social anxiety. we live in Ohio

  30. I have finally pulled my son out to homeschool. I have not dealt with anything near what some of you have. My son has been ill for many years and I just am not going to continue to jeopardize his health. the lack of compassion displayed by the school system and especially teachers is unbelievable. Additionally, why in the world should they have more information about my son’s health condition then they absolutely need? HIPPA does not apply to teachers. They make so many nasty comments about missing school to my son it was breaking my heart. Then when he was well enough to go back they want him to stay after to make up piles of work. I am a teacher living this has made me embarassed to say so.

  31. I was wondering if anyone been arrested for truancy having a 504 and being denied IEP without any test

  32. My girl was sexually assaulted and everything was reported to authorities. We followed procedures but since this time she hasn’t been able to attend school. Her doctor recommended homebound. We provided the school information about what happened and the doctor’s recommendation letter, but they just seem not to bother. I have spoken to the superintendent with no luck. Homebound was denied because we could not provide a doctor’s excuse with the specific dates when she was not about to attend school because of emotional issues. The doctor’s don’t know how long it will take for her to recover from this trauma. After 5 months of being denied homebound, we have been sent to court because of non-attendance issues. We need advice.

  33. Mike-

    First of all, if she’s not comfortable at school, you need to find out why. Secondly, if she is that anxious, you need to see a professional about getting a diagnosis.

    Although you may feel like they are picking on you, schools are accountable and get in trouble when students have excessive, unexcused absences and they don’t do anything about it.

    I hope this helps.

  34. My child is 7 and has missed a total of 17 days of school but 8 of them are excused. She has anxiety really bad and school doesnt really understand that. They think they know everything. Not every child is the same. She has seizures also. How many days can she miss without me having to go to court? My child does not feel comfortable at school. What should I do?

  35. My sons school will not excuse absences even though his 504 plan states absences related to towill be excused. They state ccompulsory attendance laws force them to require attendance.
    he should have had a home program but the compulsary attendance laws were cited again. If he missed two weeks of school he would have to take summer school or repeat the grade. I’s this right?

    • I was wondering how many days do your kids have to miss school before the school can deny him or her an IEP. If you can answer, that would be very help full. Thank you
  36. Thank you so much for calling attention to this article. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. Once I dig into my legal rights in my state, I will be sure to post what I learn.
    Thanks again.

  37. Thank you for highlighting this very common issue. Another resource for parents who have children with chronic illnesses would be their hospital or clinic’s Hospital Teacher or Hospital Education Liaison. Most of these staff are certified educators who specialize in teaching and writing plans for this population.

    In addition, there are 2 national organizations that may be of assistance; The Association of Children with Medical Needs (AECMN) and The Association of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Educational Specialists (APHOES). Both groups are made of up individuals who work in hospitals and clinics and assist patients and families with educational needs/plans that surround their illnesses, treatments and missed school.

    Thank you,
    Carla – MSEd.
    Supervisor, Hospital School Program
    Boise, Idaho

  38. I have 2 children with an immune disorder.
    Their immunologist wrote a letter explaining their medical condition( Primary Immune Disease) and stating due to their medical condition, they could miss extended ( time) periods of school (they regularly missed 40 to 60 days per year…sometimes more) due to illness.
    They have an IEPs written for Other Health Impaired and have tutors in place when they are better ( not well, but better to come to our home) or tutors to bring them up to speed when they are able to return to school …also reduced work for them.
    Or if that does not work you can always use an online school …most provide computers and even help with internet reimbursement costs. ( internet charter schools)…they also by law have IEPs or 504s available.

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