In late 2016, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed, and Governor Wolf signed, Act 138 of 2016 which drastically modified Article XII of the Pennsylvania Public School Code regarding truancy. Pennsylvania school districts will be required to implement changes in their attendance policies, and the methods by which they address student truancy, for the 2017 – 2018 school year.
Among the changes included in Act 138 are specific definitions for previously ambiguous terms such as “truant” and “habitually truant.” The new law also mandates that schools classify a student’s dismissal from school during school hours for health-related reasons as an excused absence. Additionally, the new law requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to provide guidance, resources, and strategies for families of students with chronic health conditions.
In addition to new definitions, Act 138 includes new procedures school districts will be required to follow when a child is truant, which includes a requirement to send written notice to the student’s parent as well as a requirement to offer a “school attendance improvement conference” to continuously truant students. Finally, Act 138 modifies existing truancy penalties to preclude the filing of multiple truancy citations during the pendency of a truancy proceeding as well as providing additional options for addressing truancy violations, including allowing courts the discretion to suspend sentences for truancy convictions if the student is complying with a truancy improvement plan.
The passage of Act 138 marks the first substantive amendment to Pennsylvania’s truancy laws in over two decades. Accordingly, school districts’ current policies may not reflect the mandates of the new law. Additionally, attendance provisions contained in student handbooks may be out of date or may conflict with the provisions of Act 138. Maiello, Brungo, and Maiello urges each of its school district clients to immediately consider whether or not a thorough review of the school district’s policies and handbook provisions related to student attendance is necessary in order to comply with Act 138. School districts should have a review of these documents completed by the end of May, 2017 in order to pass updated policies in time for the 2017 – 2018 school year. Contact Pete Halesey of the Maiello, Brungo, and Maiello School Law Team at [email protected] or 412.242.4400 to discuss this matter.