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 16 year old granddaughter, whom lives with us along with her mother was granted homebound services in her IEP in the Fall of 2017. She has multiple medical issues and is unable to attend school and has “home” as her placement. A homebound teacher showed up exactly 3 times and never came back. My daughter contacted the school and was told another how bound teacher would be assigned. This never happened and despite numerous calls and emails to school authorities, my granddaughter did not get any further instruction. In January, she was given Computer Based Instruction (CBI) with no homebound teacher. She was told she had to complete and pass both the Fall and the Spring semesters’ work in order to
    pass 10th grade. She did not pass all her classes. I think it is illegal and unfair

  2. In supporting the discussion of school absences and Chronic Health Illnesses (CHI): As an advocate I have experienced some school principals/administrators that focus on “missed school days or seat time” because it appears that they focus on “truancy” and need to be educated on “CHI”. It can help by providing the documentation of the child’s physician(s) as well as copies of the definitions of these illnesses (Diabetes; IBD; etc) from the major university medical hospitals. Also, the top medical institutions have combined with attorneys and advocates for these illnesses in developing sample 504 Plans for guidance.
    Missed school days can be addressed by including “home instruction” (HI) in the 504 Plan or IEP. HI can be designed to be flexible (HI plus school attendance for partial day

  3. My son was born premature he’s had alot of problems with his asthma and all year round illness such as horrible allergy reactions and also suffers from insomnia. I sent him to school today informing all his teachers nurse and staff he had been going through the stomach flu for three days and had no serious symptoms until the second night he was excused by the doctor yesterday to stay home drink fluids and rest so he could return the next day. I received several phone calls explaining how my son had missed too many days this year due to his illnesses and if I didn’t send him in today I would get visit from child protective services, they waited an hour and called me to pick up my son because he used the bathroom an his poop was runny his teacher was refusing to wipe him up .

  4. MY daughter has a 504 and doctors notes the school will allow her to do all on the 504. BUT they WILL NOT BUDGE ON THE CHEERLEADING which her 504 states please allow her to remain active in cheer and softball due to her chronic illness to keep her joints moving —3 different doctors sent letters to school its listed in her 504 but they will NOT allow it

    • If they are following their policy regarding eligibility for these activities, there probably is no basis for a claim of discrimination.

  5. Can my son have home instructions during school hours not after school due to 2 head injuries which he was hurt on school premises in New Jersey ? He was absent 45 days all excused. Has done all homework assignments when they were due. And he is on 504 plan

  6. I asked for a 504 for my daughter and got an advocate and I found out that the Counselor through the school who coordinates the 504’s was speaking horribly about not only my daughter, but about me as well. I am disabled and a single parent and I am doing this all on my own. My daughter see’s a Chiropractor for pain relief and he did extensive tests and scans that told us a lot about her declining health and the Counselor said that, “A Chiropractor is not a doctor, therefore his feedback was not valid in determining whether or not my daughter qualified for a 504. I was LIVID when I heard this and went straight to the Superintendents office and inquired about Homeschool and that has been the BEST decision we have EVER made!

  7. My daughter is an A honor roll student. She sustained a concussion and has been unable to attend school even though she has tried. She has PT, OT, Speech therapy, and counseling therapy. The concussion clinic has referred her to a psychiatrist since her anxiety over missing so much is starting to cause panic attacks. She has cognitive issues which are presumed to be temporary. She has a 504. The school has been supportive until 2 days ago. An official called to say that she would be marked truant if she did not come to school. I don’t understand I have kept them informed all along the way.

  8. My son has pulmonary valve strombosis. his valve doesn’t pump the blood out like it should and it makes his heart beat fast and effects his breathing. he has trouble fighting off other sickness and he complains of chest pain because of his heart beating fast. the doctor said the valve could stop working and there’s nothing they can do for him, so when he claims his chest hurts, I keep him home the school. the courts put me on probation for a year, but now I’m facing 6 months in jail because he missed several days this year.

    • Francis,
      Did you get doctors note excusing your child’s absences? That should solve your problem with truancy.

  9. I have a seven year old special needs son diagnosed at birth with a chromosomal anomaly. With this diagnosis comes a compromised immune system, which results in frequent absences.The public school he attends, requires that the child be seen by a physician, if absent from school for more than two days. what if my son is absent from school for an upper respiratory infection (usually viral-not requiring doctor), usually includes a fever. Per school policy, he’s to remain at home for the next 24hrs. So, that could easily extend into the second day, requiring a doctors note before those days can be excused. Before I knew it, my son had accrued more than five (5) unexcused absences. After five, he is automatically referred to the school’s social worker then to truant officer! Suggestions?

    • Contact your state parent training and information project. They should be familiar with the state attendance rules and can give you advice.

  10. My daughter has Hypoglycemia and a chronic migraine disorder. She is on medication, and is under the care of a physician. She has missed multiple days this school year due to migraines. The school is very aware of her medical problems, I have turned in multiple doctor’s notes and a letter. They are taking me to family court for her truancy, threatening to put me in jail and my daughter in foster care. She is in the 7th grade. She gets A’s and B’s on the work she does at school. I have gone to her school every time she has to stay home, asking about her missing assignments. When we ask about her missed schoolwork, we are told no, that she has to make it all up at school. The teachers and office staff are refusing to work with us on any of this.

    • If you are submitting doctors notes and have had an evaluation done by the Dr. the school should be working with you. An unpopular opinion would be to see if your daughter could be evaluated for home bound services. I would do that and also keep her in extra curricular activities to keep up her confidence and keep her interacting with typical peers. You can also have your daughter evaluated to see what special services she can receive at school along with accommodations and modifications. You may also want to consider an alternative placement like a private or charter school/

  11. My daughter has IEP, and is disabled by an Emotional Disturbance Disorder since 2015, has been under psych care consistently and SARB has called on us due to excessive truancy. My daughters anxiety is so bad she cannot tolerate school, the district psychologist has determined that ISP is ineffective for her and will not approve it. I’m worried SARB will force attendance causing further trauma. CVUSD only was interested in Dr. Notes to cover every single day, impossible for a chronic condition like this. They told me I can’t have an IP meet which I’ve requested 3,4times, saying its annual and not due til June. Then called one for tomorrow at 745 am for only 15 min. They’ve consistently not responded to me, and have caused my daughter to be very depressed and afraid.

  12. My child just this year he’s 16, has started having major seizures. In the process of having a major seizure, he fell and cracked part of his spine. He cannot sit in the school chairs. He’s been in and out of doctors and we are trying to find a reason for all of this and stop it. I just got out of a conference with my son’s teachers saying that they’re going to report him to the state for missing too much school. But yet they have every doctor’s appointment recorded. And doctors notes. He tries he really does. He doesn’t want to be kicked out of school and get his GED he wants a high school diploma. I just don’t know what to do in my case. We are in Washington State.

  13. My son has a 504 plan and now the school district decided to transition him to an IEP based on his absences due to a chronic long-term illness. The school doctor and his GI agree he should be on homebound instruction for the third time in three years due to his symptoms. The guidance counselor referred us to a counseling service for children who skip school, do drugs, etc. After I spoke to them, they said she should not have given us their phone number because I was doing what a parent should do when a child has a long-term physical illness. What are my rights?

  14. My son is having surgery in January. Currently he has a one on one para in a general ed kindergarten class with OT PT and speech as well as some assistance from a Special Ed teacher in the classroom. Due to the surgery he will be in a thigh high, bent at the knee cast and will be non weight bearing on that leg and restricted to a wheelchair for 6-10 weeks. The Special Ed teacher said that if he is non weight bearing he would either need a catheter so he could attend school or he would be restricted to home tutoring until he could transfer himself onto the toilet from the wheelchair. I’m meeting with the Special Ed director for the district tomorrow but to me this is illegal due to the LRE and he can’t be required to have a catheter. Correct?

  15. My son has APS type 1, Addison’s disease he also has several other health problems, he is in liver failure and now our school is wanting him to do Saturday school do to absences. 95% of all of his days missed are hospital, Dr office visits. Would it be best just to homeschool him?

    • Andrea if you feel its best thats you should do that. You may also want to have him evaluated because he may be able to get homebound services provided by the school.

  16. Hi, 7 yr old twins in 1st grade, born at 23 wks, daughter is epileptic and son is autistic, highly functioning but aggressive verbally and physically, has serious gastro and sensory problems.. difficult in mornings when its time to get up and get ready, no matter what time he goes to bed. On average they’re late school almost every day a few minutes, he fights me on almost everything every morning, sometimes he will change several times, he is very particular about what he wants to wear, how his morning is to go, etc. not behind in school and now I have a truancy hearing but only for him, Both have IEP’s, never heard of a 504, what are our rights, what should I bring to the hearing? He is in Special Ed all day, she Is only 1.5 hrs per day 4x’s wkly & reg class rest day Live in CA.

    • I suggest bringing documentation of his disability, & of what you deal with in the mornings (letters from others, video). Contact the special ed district office in writing. If you can find out why they are taking this action, that can assist you in preparing. It seems odd that they are doing this because he is tardy, & only against him. Bringing this up might help convince the judge to take no action against you. I would not talk a lot about autism to the judge, but provide some written info & links to info on behavior of students with autism. Do CA rules require schools to provide support at home for parents of children with autism? Some states do. Your state parent training & info center can assist you. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

  17. I have received detention after detention at my high school for being late/not showing up to school. However, the reason I show up halfway through the day or not at all is that I have chronic migraines and have recently been suffering from Serotonin Syndrome. My (private) school refuses to count the migraines as a chronic illness even though they are dehabilitating and have struck twice a week since I was eleven. The school is saying I will have to go to summer school to make up the absences (despite the fact I am not failing any classes and I am the only freshman in honors classes!), but this is not possible for me due to family arrangements. I am glad I was able to come to this page to learn my rights. If you have any ideas please reach out to me.

  18. My daughter is recovering from mono. She has anxiety, which has been exacerbated by her fatigue and difficulty with focusing and completing assignments. She has a note from her PCP and her counselor requesting accommodations be made during the course of this illness. Because she does not have a 504 or an IEP some of her teachers are resisting: stating that “These are Honor classes, we don’t make accommodations for students.” What are the recourses I can take?

  19. I am a high school student in Texas and i was wondering if it was legal for a teacher to restrict me from getting into my onlne learning program profile, when i have to stay home from alternative high school because of being sick. I am still in 10th grade and i turn 18 in a month. I feel like she is limiting my education by stopping me from being able to log on at home. Is this right to do?

  20. My child has inappropriate sinus tachycardia, bilateral hearing loss & asthma. The school keeps sending her to court even though they have received letters from her 4 specialists stating missing school is inevitable no matter what intervention is provided. She also has a 504 plan with special accommodations for all her health problems & this behavior on their part continues . I have contacted the ACLU hoping they can help but no reply back yet .

  21. My son is currently failing GT algebra, passed last year w/ C after missing 5 weeks for illness related to stuff on his 504 but still had honor roll. Then missed for preplanned related surgery but got sick first, then hemorrhaged after first, so out 5 wks. Teachers told months in advance. Returned end of May. Complained we needed make up work and time to make up old lessons before current work that was prerequisite for learning. his district started ungraded for 50% work that year. They decided instead to excuse absent work. I fought they ignored. Now want him to retake class he passed, says state scores to low. whole problem is its common core and teacher wont accommodate HF ASD child with literal thinking issues and ADD. Thoughts for accommodations?

  22. Hi my son has chronic migraines and IBS he barley goes to school and the school is trying to fail for make up work is this even legal

  23. Can a school district (In New York) force a child with a 504 for anxiety, depression and eating disorder to drop from advanced to lower level classes?

    • I think your question is “can they legally do this?” Their position may be that the advanced classes are increasing his anxiety & depression. So the legal questions become, have they tried everything possible to keep him in advanced classes, & what will they do if this does not help him? Your state education agency, & parent training & information center may be able to assist you. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

  24. My child’s school has a mandatory Saturday school for any absences excused or not excused. This is new a new policy this year. My child has some health issues, B student makes up work when absent and has an IEP. I feel like this about the money and is being punished for being sick. Also I think this promotes kids to attend school sick….any thoughts would be appreciated!

  25. My child has been diagnosed w extreme social anxiety disorder this year. She has an ihp andv504 in place now and w proper medication as well as some strategies for recognizing triggers in place has done great the last couple months last yea . However it was entire year of doctors and truancy court to get the evaluation and on the right path for her. I believe she has had this disorder since beginning school and probably before. It took the transitioning to middle school to warrant intervention. We were taken to court and she was ordered to go to school at this point we started counseling to seek out the reason she would get so anxious to the point of hives and sickness at the thought of going causing many missed days and now they want to fail her her past grades have been a’s and b’s

    • Just a thought and doesn’t solve the schools refusal to help but If she is older and able to stay home could she homeschool? There are online programs she can do if both partebts work and can’t teach her.

  26. My 8 year old has chronic uti and kidney infections since infancy. First time she was admitted she was only 8 months and was in the hospital for 4 days. She’s has to miss countless days of school and her school has been horrible! My daughter is a straight A student regardless of her missed days. This year (2nd grade) she received the All Around Academic acheivment award for the entire school year and even then was unable to participate in the end of the school year activities. We both cried about it. It’s so frustrating she works so hard and they are punishing her for something out of her control!

  27. My 4th grade son has epilepsy and high anxiety, his teacher has bullied him. I have requested several times that his class be switched. He had refused to go to class, having major panic attacks, chasing my car down the street, or hanging on to my car screaming crying. The principal, has been of no help. A lot of times she or the special Ed teacher are not available, and no one can help me with my son. Therefore I have to leave his brother and take him home. The principal found out I am now dealing with a disability lawyer she called cps on me stating that I am mentally unstable. Now two weeks before the end of school they put my son in a new class and my son is happy again, going to class. Now I am being sent to truancy court because of the times I couldn’t leave my son at school

  28. Hello… My teenager gets massive headaches if it takes more than two tests in one day… He has a health plan with the school saying that they must accommodate him when he happens to get a headache during exams… During the state proficiency tests which are very long… In some cases 200 questions… My son had 3 exams back to back… He pushed through and finished the exams but then began to get very light headed and needed to check out… Because it was 30 minutes before school let out the School refused to give him a check out slip… Are Schools allowed to do that?

    • Caleb, have you thought about Opting out of the state exams? anyone can. I opted both my boys. Even my sons teacher said he is opting his kids out.

  29. am a highschool student who has severe asthma. My teacher is still making me dance even though I physically can not. She puts me down and gets upset that I cant do it. I went to my principal, and he made it about my attendance. Either way, the dancing effects my grade. Can I take any legal action at all?

  30. Hello- my daughter has missed many days of school to where the school took credits away because of it now she’s behind two credits which is stopping her from graduating on time. I’m worried their not gonna let her walk for graduation. she could still finish by going to summer school but her counselor said she doesn’t see anything could be done. I’m upset because she tried really hard to fit in with bald spots hair falling out adjusting to wearing a wig and being sick n pain only to be told all her efforts might be pointless. not fare. anyone no of anything that option we could try

    • Hello, I’m going thru the same with my son he has chronic migraine headaches
      and they just told me that he can’t graduate. He has a 504 they switched him to night
      school and now they want him out. You know what! We can’t give up.. we have to do
      what we have to for our child because they can’t be discriminated that way. write a letter to the Board of Education and send a copy to the State Board and see if you can
      get a meeting with your councilmen in your city to help you. Do it for your daughter
      but it has to be going right away so she will make it on time. Everything you said is exactly what they said to me. It’s not our kids fault they have that medical condition.They just want to put them down. We can’t let them.. Let me how it goes and God Bless you and your family…

  31. My Daughter is 13 years old and when starting middle school, the Hereditary disease struck. Immune system weak from stress and she had full Blown IBS D&C. A severe form. She has a GI dr. but there is nothing to stop it that works prescription wise. my daughter is in the 5th percentile for growth and weight. She weighs about 68 lbs will be 14 in July. The threats to her by truancy brought on an anxiety disorder she hyperventilates. Please help! She has a 504 not helping.

  32. My son has a 504 in place. Tonight I read up on the Texas Educational Code and they do not excuse the missed days. He is required to make up 1 hr per day above 18. My issue is he is at school and sent home for keystones over 10 times this year! How can I control that? How can he? It doesn’t seem right.

  33. My 6 year old Grandson has missed school when he had severe Flu. He missed total of five days not in a row. My Daughter took Dr. notes and they STILL want a truancy meeting.

  34. My son had cancer at age 3, stage 3 Wilms tumor with 18 weeks of Chemo. And he lost a kidney. He’s suffered from chronic stomach pains a th the drop of a hat periodically since age 3, he’s now 9 and in third grade.
    He has missed 20 days of school from doctor appointments and these belly pains.
    The school sent me a letter stating if he misses anymore school they will call the district attorney on us if we do not have a doctors note.
    We’ve been to a specialist and his doctors and the ER several times in the past and they don’t really know what is causing it without doing exploratory surgery, which they don’t want to do.
    The doctor has given us a medicine that helps his belly pains but since they can’t do anything for him when he has the pains we just ride it out. what should I do?

    • Homeschool. My son is in gr 11 and it is an ongoing battle and source of frustration. He is so close to getting a high school diploma now and wants it although i am not sure he will b able to go enough to get it. I wish i had homeschooled him right off the bat and at 17 done the ged. He says if he doesnt get the diploma now he will feel like a failure. I feel i failed him by not pulling out if this crazy system that just made his stress worse and probably made him sicker.

      • Did you know you can graduate from Home school with a diploma. We home schooled and just filed what we did through a Christian School. at the end of the year, turned in our forms – we paid $35 and got his diploma. they keep a transcript for him also so if he wants to apply to colleges. we have an official transcript.


    • hi there my 14 year old daughter had the same thing except hers in actually a chronic illness if thats what your sons is to he can can a 504 like my daughter so that he can be homebound well at least here in texas

  36. My daughter has missed 20.5 days of school, with 2 ER visits and multiple doctor visits. The first time she was very sick and that was the first ER vist. She missed 7-ish days of school. After she came back she got a concussion and missed several days of school. She came back to school for a bit and then this past Thursday had serve chest pain in her chest (left side) and stomach. So mcuh pain she couldn’t move, 2nd ER vist. With all of these problems she has missed a lot of school work and the school is requiring her to take the mid-term exams. Thoughts on this? Should they have offered a 504 plan?

    • I am a high school student and I have a 504 plan. I too miss plenty of school. Typically they only do a 504 plan for chronic illness with documentation. Even with a 504 plan that explains my medical history, they still give me multiple detentions and send letters for truancy to my mom. Even when I bring in a doctor note, they give me detentions.

  37. My 9 year old had to have knee surgery due to an infection. He missed a lot of school in December and a couple days this month due to pain. The school says he can miss no more days without a doctors excuse but recovery is slow. Would a 504 help?

    • Is there a reason that you cannot obtain a doctor’s excuse for the days he has missed and possible days he will miss due to the medical condition?

      • I actually do have doctor’s notes for the missed days due to pain, they just seem to continue to be condescending about the entire thing. I had to tell his teacher to stop bringing up his absences to him as it was very upsetting to him. I am hoping we are at the end and this will all blow over. Thanks for replying.

        • Every yr we have a teacher like this and there is no way to really stop it because of tenure. I have tried. Wish i had homeschooled my now 17 yr old from the start. Public school really messed up his self esteem with this stuff that was not his fault!

        • going through the same thing. I have a 504 plan and bring in doctor notes for any days ive missed and they have still given me detentions and sent letters home even with a doctor note.

  38. My friend has a son who has a immune disorder which requires him to not attend public school due to his high risk of infection. He is also on the spectrum. His IEP meeting was just a few days ago and the school is going against his doctors order and no longer paying for placement in a less populated school setting. Can the school do that? The school says that if he is not in school they will report to DCS and truancy court.

    • Trina
      hey my name is Stacey my daughter was also in iep for speech she has febrile seizures and runs fevers of over 105 so she has missed a lot of time they had a meeting g with me kicking her out due to her absences WRONG what they don’t tell you is dont ever sign anything they have to offer u a due process hearing which I’m sure they didnt. I want you to fight this till the end go to your local school board also get an attorney usually the other party will have to pay for the attorney so it won’t cost you anything. your child has a very bad disorder. they can threaten all they want they will lose in the end. the school systems are just horrible it was sad when I walked in and told the speech teacher all of the codes they kicked her out she was back in 3 days that teacher is gone

  39. My daughter has a medical excuse for HighSchool. taking her out until Dec 30th and the school id insisting she return next week. She has mental issues that the Doctors feel need to be addressed before returning. She has a tutor through the school, bt can they force her back to school before the Doctor releases her?

    • I’m 16 years old and I have a 504 because I broke my spine and have had a couple surgeries. But my teaches are generally noncompliant with the 504 terms. I missed around three and a half or four months of school because of my back and I am still considered a truant because they didn’t put my absences under medical leave. I had a home bound teacher that came once every couple weeks

      • hey Bailey. I want ur parents to fight this that is so illegal they have to take your serious illness into consideration these people lie because it is a state and federal funded program and only so many kids can be approved it’s always about the money im so sorry to hear of your illness I hope you get better. I hope this answer helps a little bit.

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