Daily attendance at school is very important. Children have a right to an education, and parents have a legal responsibility to see that they attend. Courts enforce these rules.
But the importance of regular school attendance isn't about following the rules; it's about giving our children the best chance for success. Missing school puts our children at a big disadvantage. If they miss the class where a key idea or lesson is delivered, they quickly get behind. And sometimes, children who get behind get discouraged and give up. This is something none of us wants for our children.
Of course children should stay at home if they are sick. And of course we should all be sure our children eat well and get plenty of sleep so they stay as healthy as possible. But we should also always try to schedule dentist, doctor, or other appointments for our children at times that don't conflict with school. Nearly all schools also have an attendance policy that requires a written note or a phone call from the parent or guardian explaining why a student is absent, whether it's because of illness or for some other reason.
Some of us have important holidays or traditional celebrations that aren't recognized by the school calendar. This can be a problem for families from many different faiths and cultures. When it's really important to us to keep our children home for a religious, cultural, or family event, we need to contact our children's teachers in advance and let them know about our plans. They will want to know what day or days our children will miss. We should ask them if there are assignments our children can do at home to make up for the class time they will miss, and whether there are any other ways to make up the missed class time.
Washington state law requires children from age 8 to 17 to attend a public school, private school, or district-approved home school program. Children who are 6- or 7-years-old are not required to be enrolled in school. However, if parents enroll their 6- or 7-year-old, the student must attend full-time. Youth who are 16 or older may be excused from attending public school if they meet certain requirements. For more information, visit the OSPI Safety Center: Truancy and Compulsory Attendance.
Student behavior and discipline
Schools vary in their policies and practices about student discipline. Some are more strict and regimented than others. But the purpose of all school discipline is to create a safe place where all students can learn, and to teach students to respect and get along with each other, their teachers, and other adults in the school and in their lives.
Teachers and other school employees in Washington are not allowed to hit, paddle or use any form of corporal punishment. But they do have the authority to impose other forms of discipline when students break the rules. The most serious disciplinary measures are suspension (which means the student can't come to school for a given number of days), or expulsion (which means the child can't come back to that school).
If our child is breaking the rules and getting in trouble, we want to know about it right away. Sometimes, though, if the problem is minor and the teacher is busy, we might not hear about it unless our children tell us, or unless we are in regular contact with the teacher. If the problem is serious, the school will contact us.
It's not uncommon for our child to have a different version of a discipline problem than the teacher or school principal. When that happens, we're in a difficult position, and we have to be careful.
Dealing with school discipline issues is very hard for families. We want to be sure that the school is being fair to our child, but we also want our children to be accountable for learning to control themselves and to behave responsibly. And of course, we want our child to get a good education.
If we have a disagreement with the school about a discipline problem, it's often a good idea to take a member of our family or a level-headed friend with us when we meet with the teacher or principal. It's also very important to have an interpreter if we need one. And it's important to establish, at the beginning of the meeting, that our goal is to make sure that our child is both accountable and educated.
Here are some questions to ask in this situation:
- Has my child's behavior or academic performance at school changed? If so, do we know why?
- Have his or her friends changed?
- Has he or she had any unexplained absences?
- Has he or she been the victim of any bullying behavior by other students?
- Is there an ongoing conflict between my child and a teacher or other school staff?
- What disciplinary measure is most likely to get my child back on track?
- What should we do to address the root cause of my child's behavior?
It's helpful, in a situation like this, to take notes (or ask your friend to take notes) so you have a record of the meeting. If English is not your first language, it is fine to take notes in your own language.
It's also a good idea to summarize, at the end of the meeting, what you and the teacher or principal have agreed to.
If you don't agree with the school's decision about a disciplinary matter, you have the right to appeal. Every school district has a policy that spells out how to do this.
For more information about Washington state law on discipline and conduct, visit OSPI's Safety Center: Discipline and Conduct.
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