By Christine T. Cossler and Christina H. Peer.andnbsp;

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.