DENVER — Districts across the state are bracing for the start of the school year, and student attendance is top of mind for local districts as they continue to help students readjust amid the pandemic.
Truancy can have long-term negative impacts on a student's life, and it could lead to involvement with the criminal justice system.
"A lot of it actually contributes to what we know as the school to prison pipeline," said Nicole Duncan, a defense attorney and member of the Sam Cary Bar Association.
In Colorado, habitual truancy is when a student has four total days of unexcused absences in a month or ten or more unexcused absences in a year. The hours that children are required to spend at school vary by age.
But kids aren't the only ones who can get the blame for their excessive absences.
"A lot of the onus of what happens in truancy court can actually be on the parent," Duncan said.
Before the issue rises to that level, schools will try to reach out to parents first.
"In the earlier ages, they're getting phone calls when when kids are absent from school," said Meredith Fatseas, the senior manager of mental health for Denver Public Schools.
In Colorado, if a school finds that a child is missing too many days of school, they have to develop a plan to improve the student's attendance. If the student doesn't comply with the plan, the district has to give parents written notice that they'll go to court if the pattern continues. If the student still doesn't comply, the district will file a petition with the court as a last resort.
From there, the court will enter an order requiring the child to go to school. If the court's attempts to get a child to go to class don't work out, the child and/or the parents could be found in contempt. That could lead to the child having to perform community service or spend time in juvenile detention. Parents could be jailed or fined. Those consequences, however, are seen as last-resort options and schools try to avoid them.
Fatseas said when kids are skipping class, it's time to have a talk.
"What's going on with you? How is school going? Do you feel connected?" Fatseas said.
She said I\it's important to let children share their feelings about why they are avoiding the class room. She suggests that parents should also ask where the child is going when they're not in school and what they're doing with their time.
Attendance is especially important as schools strive to help students get back on track after the uncertainty during the height of the pandemic. In the 2020-2021 school year, the truancy rate at Denver Public Schools was 8.4%. In the 2019-2020 school year, it was 5%.
"Families who were already impacted by a multitude of barriers... we know that was only compounded by the effects of COVID," Fatseas said.
The impact of skipping school can compound as well. Truancy is seen as an early warning sign for educational failure, and it's linked to suspension, expulsion, delinquent behavior and, ultimately, dropping out.