Education Law Update: Massachusetts addresses truancy in new Juvenile Court Standing Order

On April 1, 2021, a new Massachusetts Juvenile Court Standing Order (3-21) (‘the Order’) goes into effect, which details a statewide standardized process for child requiring assistance (‘CRA’) proceedings. The Order provides clarity and processes for how public school districts and public charter schools can address student truancy, particularly in the hybrid and remote learning environment.

The Order allows schools to file an application for assistance for a student that is ‘habitually truant. Per G.L. c. 119, § 21, a CRA is child aged 6-18 who is, in part, habitually truant; meaning the child is ‘willfully’ failing to attend school for more than eight (8) school days in a quarter without a lawful and reasonable excuse from attendance. The Order clarifies that many Massachusetts school districts do not follow a quarterly schedule, but instead divide the school year into semesters or trimesters. In that case, the Order advises that the following would be considered habitually truant:

  • Sixteen (16) missed days per semester.
  • Eleven (11) missed days per trimester.

It’s important to note that the definition of habitually truant was designed for in-person learning only. Therefore, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) requires schools to create specific attendance policies for remote or hybrid learning models. Currently, if a school is filing a CRA for habitual truancy, the school should also provide a copy of its remote or hybrid learning model attendance policy, so that it may be considered by the court when evaluating the request.  Schools will also be required to file the CRA application using a form specifically approved by the Juvenile Court (Form JV-088).

Another key consideration by the court is the child’s ‘willfulness’ in failing to attend school, which is made by judicial inquiry into the circumstances and reasons for the child’s absences.

Schools should also be aware that the court may consider the following factors in a CRA application for habitual truancy:

  1. The number of absences by the student.
  2. The school’s virtual attendance policy, and how students and parents were informed of the policy.
  3. The reason for the student’s absences.
  4. The actions that the school has taken to address the student’s absences.
  5. Whether the school district has a truancy prevention program, and if so, circumstances related to the student and family’s participation in, or disregard of, the program.

A full copy of the Order can be found here.

For more information about a school’s duties and responsibilities in relation to truancy and Massachusetts Juvenile Court Standing Order (3-21), please contact Greg Vanden-Eykel or your Barton Gilman education attorney at 617-654-8200.

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