Ohio Legislature Alters Law on Truancy and Student Discipline

By Christine T. Cossler and Christina H. Peer. 

The Ohio Legislature passed House Bill 410 (H.B. 410) last December after considering the legislation for over a year. The bill became law on April 6, 2017. As of April 6, school districts must measure absences in hours, rather than days, and must adhere to new laws regarding student discipline. The new law substantially changes the truancy law for the 2017-2018 school year, and requires school districts to prepare and implement policies that emphasize intervention strategies for chronically absent students. Significant changes have also been made with respect to student out-of-school suspensions.

Changes Effective on April 6, 2017

Truancy Terminology and Notice

The new law eliminates the concept of "chronic truancy" and instead categorizes all students with excessive absences as "habitually truant." Students are considered habitually truant when the student is absent for at least:

  • 30 consecutive hours without a legitimate excuse (formerly 5 days);
  • 42 hours in one month without a legitimate excuse (formerly seven days);
  • 72 hours in one school year without a legitimate excuse (formerly 12 days);
  • 38 hours in one month regardless of excuse; or
  • 65 hours in one school year regardless of excuse.

School districts must calculate absences by hours, rather than days, in conformance with the new definition of habitual truancy. The school district must send written notification to the parent or legal custodian of any student who is absent, with or without legitimate excuse, for 38 hours in a month or for 65 hours in a year. The notice must be sent within seven school days of the absence that triggers the habitual truancy designation.

Make-up Work for Out-of-School Suspensions

If a student is suspended for any misconduct, the new law provides that the school board may, at its discretion, permit the student to complete any assignments missed due to the suspension.

Suspension Carry-Over

Out-of-school suspensions for any misconduct may not carry-over to the next school year, but may be converted into required community service or a similar alternative consequence. The student must begin the community service or alternative consequence during the first full week of summer break. If the student fails to complete his or her service requirements, then the school district may determine an appropriate next course of action, but may not require the student to serve the remaining time of the suspension in the following school year. This change does not impact a school district's ability to carry an expulsion forward into the next school year.

Changes for 2017-2018 School Year

Truancy Discipline

Starting on July 1, 2017, a school district may not suspend, expel, or remove a student solely due to excessive absences, and therefore may no longer include excessive truancy in its zero tolerance policy.

Truancy Intervention Policy

A school district must establish or modify a policy to guide employees in addressing student absences and the policy must include absence intervention strategies. Under the new law, the intervention strategy policy is required for all school districts. The policy should include, as applicable, intervention strategies such as:

  • Providing a truancy intervention plan for habitually truant students;
  • Providing counseling to habitually truant students;
  • Notifying and involving the student's parent or legal custodian;
  • Notifying the department of motor vehicles and county juvenile judge of habitual truancy; and
  • Pursing legal action in the juvenile court system under certain circumstances.

Under the new law, habitually truant students whose absences are unexcused must be assigned an absence intervention team. However, the law creates an exception for districts with less than 5% chronic absenteeism as reported on the district's most recent state report card-- those districts are not required to assign habitually truant students to an absence intervention team.

Absence Intervention Plan Team

When required, the absence intervention team must consist of, at minimum, two representatives from the school or district (at least one must know the child) chosen by the superintendent or chief administrator of the school, and the child's parent or legal custodian, unless the parent or legal custodian refuses to cooperate.

The team must be assigned to the habitually truant student within ten school days after the triggering absence. The team is required to develop an intervention plan tailored to the student within fourteen school days after the team is assigned. The school district must make reasonable efforts to provide a written copy of the plan to the student's parent or legal custodian within seven school days after the plan is developed. The intervention plan must explain that the attendance officer is required to file a complaint with the juvenile court no later than 61 days after the implementation of the plan if the student fails to comply with the plan.

Alternatively, the school district may choose to enroll the student in an appropriate juvenile court's alternative to adjudication instead of convening an intervention plan team.

Reporting Requirements

Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, the school district must report to the Department of Education, as soon as practicable, when:

  • A student becomes habitually truant;
  • A habitually truant student violates a court order; and
  • A habitually truant student is provided an absence intervention plan.

Further, the school district must make three good-faith attempts to entice meaningful parental or custodial involvement in the intervention team and, if the parent or custodian fails to become involved, the school district must investigate whether failure to respond triggers mandatory reporting to the child protective services.

Looking Ahead

School districts should plan ahead for end of the year mischief by developing a list of alternative consequences that can be imposed in lieu of carrying suspension days into the following school year. School districts should also determine consequences for students who fail to complete the assigned community service of alternative consequence during the summer of 2017.

School districts can expect a model policy emphasizing preventive strategies and alternatives to suspension or expulsion from the Ohio Board of Education no later than July 6, 2017. The new law also requires the Board of Education to develop absence intervention training materials for teachers and staff no later than October 6, 2017.

School districts should use the summer to reevaluate or adopt absence policies for the 2017-2018 school year.

Christine Cossler and Christina Peer are partners in the Education Services group of Cleveland-based Walter | Haverfield LLP.