We have been hearing from more parents about issues with schools about their child’s absences.  There is a Guidance document on this topic (Temporary Absences of Children with Disabilities) on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) special education webpage, http://tea.texas.gov/index2.aspx?id=2147496874

The Guidance document begins by addressing the recent law that allows students with autism to attend school and also leave for an appointment with a health care professional. (TEC 25.087(b-3)

It notes that this is an exception to TEA’s position “that regularly scheduled daily or weekly absences to obtain ongoing treatment for a chronic health condition related to a student’s disability cannot be considered “temporary” absences within the meaning” of the TX education code 25.087(b).

The document says “Note that the provisions in TEC §25.087 do not alter a school district’s obligation under federal law to provide a student with a disability a FAPE. If a student has recurring absences, the student’s ARD committee should address the issue when developing the student’s IEP. Furthermore, the ARD committee must be mindful that 19 TAC §89.1075(d) requires the following:  students with disabilities must have available an instructional day commensurate with that of students without disabilities; and the student’s ARD committee must determine the appropriate instructional setting and length of day for each student which must be specified in the student’s IEP.  The ARD committee, therefore, has the authority to decide whether to shorten a student’s instructional day, and, if so, how to shorten it. The ARD committee’s deliberation of this issue should include meaningful input from the student’s parents.”  (It is important that parents be aware of this statement and bring it to the school’s attention, if necessary.)

“When developing an IEP for a student with a disability who has recurring absences resulting from receiving treatment from a health care professional, the ARD committee’s considerations may include the following: (1) how the ongoing treatment for which the student will be absent is related to the student’s disability; (2) how the recurring absences may affect the student’s educational program needs; and (3) whether any program modifications, including a modified instructional day or week, will be necessary to accommodate the student’s need to be absent.

A student whose absence is excused under TEC §25.087(b) may not be penalized for the absence and must be counted as if the student attended school for purposes of calculating average daily attendance. Also, the school district must allow the student a reasonable time to make up missed school work. If the student satisfactorily completes the school work, the day of absence must be counted as a day of compulsory attendance.  The ARD committee, therefore, should consider the expected length of the student’s recurring absences and determine how the student will make up missed work.”  (It is also important that parents get a copy of the school’s policies and procedures on absences.)

“Even when a student’s absences are excused, the student is subject to TEC §25.092 which conditions credit for a class on a student’s attendance for at least 90 percent of the days a class is offered. This provision is commonly referred to as the “90 percent rule”.  Finally, the new provision in TEC §25.087(b) should not be construed as creating a “dual enrollment” option (the option to concurrently enroll a student in a public school and a private school) for students who are in kindergarten through twelfth grades. The new statute merely allows temporary absences for part of the school day to attend appointments with health care practitioners.”  Additional information regarding the 90 percent rule may be found in TEA’s To the Administrator Addressed Letter Regarding Attendance, Admission, Enrollment Records and Tuition, which is updated annuallyThis year’s letter may be found at: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/taa/legal072811.html.

Additional Services that Schools can Provide

Homebound services can be provided through the special education department or through the general education program. This is for any student who is expected to be confined at home or hospital bedside for a minimum of 4 weeks, but the weeks do not need to be consecutive.  The student must be confined at home or hospital bedside for medical reasons only and the medical condition is document by a licensed physician.  The decision for needing the general ed homebound service is made by a campus committee consisting of a campus administrator, a teacher of the student and a parent/guardian of the student.  This program allows a student to be served at home for a few days, return to school and periodically be served at home as long as the time at home is expected to total 4 weeks.  Schools are to have procedures for this program, so it is important for parents to request and study these procedures as soon as they anticipate the possible need for these services.  The school can count a student as present for 1 day with 1 hour of homebound service.

The ARD/IEP team can determine that a student receiving special ed services needs homebound services, because they will be out 4 consecutive weeks or a total of 4 weeks during the year.  Whether the parent will be requesting services under the general ed or special ed program, it is important that they request services and push for a meeting and the start of services as soon as they are aware of the need.  Frequently services can be slow in starting because the parent is gathering the necessary documentation from the doctor and the school is slow in setting up the meetings.  Both of these programs allow for a transition back to school period, i.e, 3-4 days at home with 1-2 days at school and then 1-2 days at home and 3-4 days at school.  Transition periods and students moving back and forth between homebound and school during the year cause extra paperwork and record keeping work for the school.  So some schools are reluctant to do this or say that this cannot be done.  As always it is important to know your rights and push for what is best for your child.  Recommendations from doctors can help, although the teams/committees do not have to accept these recommendations.  It is also important to push for more than 4 hours of services at home, if it appears that the child can handle and needs more than this amount.  Decisions are to be made on a student’s needs, not on general rules (all students get 4 hours of homebound instruction a week).

Provision of Related Services When a Student is Repeatedly Absent

TEA addresses this issue in a Q & A document, http://tea.texas.gov/index2.aspx?id=2147496874.  It says “Schools are required to provide related services consistent with the frequency, location, and duration of services specified in a student’s IEP.  Schools should consult with a parent when unable to provide a related service due to a student’s absence from school.  ARD committees should discuss related service options when a student repeatedly fails to receive a related service due to frequent or chronic absences.  If a student’s performance becomes negatively impacted due to frequent absences, an ARD committee should address the schedule of delivery of services and consider the appropriateness of compensatory services.”

While schools are only required to “consider” the appropriateness of compensatory services, parents can request such services and can provide data that the child has been “negatively impacted”.  If the school decides not to provide such services, they must provide the parent with prior written notice of their refusal to provide these services.