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University of Minnesota Extension

Has your child missed school lately?

One of the most important things you can do to help your children succeed is to make sure they attend school regularly. Missing school can be a serious thing and can have adverse effects on your child.

What is truancy?

Students are considered truant when they miss school or class without a valid excuse. Truancy is defined as 3 days of unexcused absences in elementary school. In middle school, junior high school or high school, students may be considered truant if they miss three or more class periods on three days. In Minnesota, students must attend school until age 16. Teens aged 17 may withdraw from school only if their parents give written permission following a meeting with school personnel.

Excused absences

Usually students can miss class for reasons such as:

  • Illness
  • Death of a family member
  • Doctor appointments
  • Religious holidays

When your child is absent with a valid excuse, contact the school attendance clerk the day of the absence. When your child returns to school, some schools may require a written note explaining the absence.

Unexcused absences

Sometimes parents keep their children home for reasons they feel are okay. In a colder climate, some parents may feel that it’s acceptable to keep children home when the weather is below a certain temperature. However, this is not an excuse for children not to attend school. In Minnesota, all children must go to school even when the weather is unpleasant unless the school district determines it’s unsafe.

Likewise, a child staying out of school because they have missed the school bus or need to take care of younger siblings is also not excused. Keeping a child out of school for these reasons can lead to the child getting behind in schoolwork. It also can create gaps in a child’s learning.

Some examples of unexcused absences include:

  • Refusing to go to school
  • Skipping school for the day or for a class period
  • Working at a job
  • Vacation/travel

How to encourage school attendance

Parent involvement is one of the greatest protections against truancy. Here are ways you can stay involved:

  • Talk to your child about school. Ask how you can help.
  • Insist that your teenager or child goes to school every day.
  • Make sure your child understands and has completed required homework. Uncompleted homework may prevent children from wanting to go to school.
  • Discuss your concerns with your child's teachers. Ask for referrals if necessary.
  • Ask the school to contact you immediately if your child is absent without a valid excuse.
  • Periodically check in with your child's teachers to find out how things are going for your child.
  • Get to know your child's friends and their families.

If your child has been missing school, ask yourself and your child these questions:

  • Has your child lost interest due to the inability to keep up with the pace of his class or because he can do more advanced work?
  • Is your child associating with other students who are also truant?
  • Is there a mental health or other problem contributing?

Truancy can have strong negative effects on students' lives. It can block future opportunities and is associated with drug use, daytime crime, and violence. Coordination between home, school, and the student is key.

Related resources

School refusalAmerican Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry — Explore whether your child's fear or panic about school warrants professional help, and get ideas for things you can try to bring back the joy in school.

PACER Center — Website for parents of handicapped children provides workshops, materials, blogs, and more.

Jesus Villasenor-Ochoa

Reviewed 2014 by La Tasha M. Shevlin, Extension educator in family resiliency

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