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School Attendance and Truancy
Regular school attendance is one of the strongest predictors of academic success and diploma attainment. The Office of Truancy, Dropout Prevention, and Alternative Education support Maine schools in quickly identifying students who are regularly missing school and may be at risk of falling behind or dropping out. The office provides technical assistance in the implementation of effective attendance improvement and truancy intervention strategies.
Compulsory Attendance and Excusable Absences
Children in Maine are required to attend school starting at age 7 and until they turn 17. Absence from school can be excused if a student:
- is ill,
- has a health care appointment that can only be made during school hours,
- has a family emergency,
- has a personal or educational absence that was planned and pre- approved by the school,
- is observing a recognized religious holiday when observance is required during school hours, or
- experiences an educational disruption due to homelessness, unplanned hospitalization, foster care placement, youth development center placement, or other temporary placement that is not part of the student’s educational plan or district agreement.
Even absences that are excused can cause a student to fall behind, so it is important for families and schools to work together in order to minimize the time that students miss school. School nurses, guidance counselors, social workers, homeless liaisons, and special education departments can be helpful when families are struggling with chronic health and other issues that make regular attendance challenging.
The Maine Department of Education's Office of School and Student Supports has compilied a resource guide to assist schools in their efforts to improve student attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism. Download the School Attendance Resource Guide
Maine’s compulsory attendance statute can be found on the Maine State Legislatures site. Individual school units may have specific rules and policies about documenting excusable absences.
A Maine student is truant if the student is required to be in school but is regularly experiencing absences that are NOT excusable. Parents/guardians are responsible for assuring that their children attend school. Employers may be subject to significant financial penalties if they allow a truant minor to work.
Schools are required to respond to truancy using the following process:
Step One: The district’s Superintendent is notified.
Step Two: The student is referred to an intervention process, where a plan is developed to address the causes and consequences of the student’s absences. Students and parents are important participants in this process, but the school can implement the plan if students and parents opt not to participate in its development.
Step Three: If the intervention plan doesn’t correct the attendance issue, the Superintendent sends formal written notice to the parent or guardian explaining Maine’s attendance laws, informing parents that failure to send a child to school is a civil violation, and further informing parents that their child’s academic progress may be in jeopardy. The written notice alerts parents to the fact that the Superintendent has the authority to notify law enforcement and/or make a report to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Step Four: The school board is notified.
Step Five: The Superintendent must schedule at least one meeting with the parent or guardian and may invite a local prosecutor to that meeting.
Step Six: If the student remains truant 3 days after parents are served with written notice and the parent and student refuse to attend the scheduled meeting with the Superintendent, the district makes a report to the local law enforcement department. Law enforcement may then proceed to refer the case for civil adjudication. The court may impose several requirements, including a fine of up to $250.
School units report student truancy data to the Maine Department of Education every quarter, and the Commissioner of Education annually reports to the Governor and Legislature on truancy in Maine schools.
- Maine’s truancy statute
- Instructions to school districts recording truancy incidents
- A policy brief on evidence-based truancy reduction strategies, from the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention
When a student’s education is interrupted due to:
- housing instability that causes the student to enroll in 3 or more schools in a single year,
- foster care placement
- extended unplanned hospitalization, youth center, or other interim placement
Maine schools are required to develop a written “school work recognition plan” that outlines how the student will continue making and documenting academic progress during the disruption. For students aged 16 and older, the plan must include a description of how the student will qualify to graduate.
Maine Department of Education