We Received the “Attendance Letter” from School

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We received the dreaded “Attendance Letter” from school, and I have some thoughts. If you don’t know, in Indiana, schools are required to send a letter to parents after a number of absences. Here is an excerpt of the letter we received:

Moving forward, any additional absence will require documentation from a medical professional or the absence will be marked as unexcused. In addition, further absences from school beyond the stated limits may be turned over to the [school name] Attendance Officer and to the [County] Prosecutor for action under the [County Attendance] Program.

It is important that your child is at school every day and on time…It is imperative that we continue to work together to ensure your child is attending school daily.

Immediately after the letter went out, I received several text messages from friends and a fellow room parent who received the letter. I also observed several conversations from parents and other caregivers on social media. The most common reactions were:

  • Anger. As caregivers, the vast majority of us are doing the best we can. Two or more illnesses at this point in the school year would likely bump you into the category of receiving the attendance letter. I don’t know how many people received the letter, but it was a lot.
  • Confusion. The letter states that children must be in school every day. But what about fevers or a flu/Covid diagnosis? What about when the school itself sent the child home sick? There was also a lot of verbiage that was extremely unclear. For instance, it says the limit is 16 days missed, but most that received the letter were way under this limit. What action should be taken prior to the limit?
  • Isolation. Many children are dealing with unfortunate medical issues. Some dealt with a death. Others have mental struggles. The letter made these guardians feel ignored and unwelcome within the school system.
  • Indifference. Many laughed it off, threw it in the garbage, and admitted to receiving the letter often with no follow up or action.

Not once did I see a parent or guardian say, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that my kid needed to be in school. This letter really educated me.” A good parent-school relationship is important, and this letter only seemed to cause a divide.

So, the attendance letter led me to ask these questions: What are our state lawmakers’ intentions? What could be a better approach? And it led me down a little bit of a rabbit hole.

Data shows that about 40% of students in Indiana missed ten or more school days during the school year, and almost one in five were “chronically absent” for 18 or more days. These rates are about 8% higher than before the pandemic. Education experts say the increase is due to a combination of increased family challenges and parents keeping their children home when they are just mildly unwell – a habit born out of the pandemic.

Because absenteeism often contributes to lower test scores, state lawmakers are getting more involved. Senate Bill 282 would require schools to contact caregivers immediately once absenteeism becomes an issue, and parents would be required to attend a conference. Habitually truant students may face a referral to juvenile court and could be kept from participating in extracurricular activities. The original bill included language to study the issue of absenteeism over the summer – but House lawmakers removed it at the request of our House Speaker. (I can’t figure out why.)

Here’s what I think needs to happen BEFORE the Indiana GOP passes additional laws:

  1. Identify the real issues. Even outside of the school absentee numbers, one thing that drives me crazy is how we’re all expected to immediately bounce back after a pandemic that changed so much. Now that we’re a couple of years post-pandemic, the state wants to skip the research and go straight to bigger punishments for parents and students. Also, while we’ve always dealt with colds, stomach bugs, the flu, etc., we now have Covid. I’m not a doctor, but our family has had Covid each year since 2020. Wouldn’t it make sense that a new illness in the mix may add a few sick days each year?
  2. Better healthcare. Indiana ranks as the 10th-worst state for health care. This low ranking is due to the lack of enough doctors, high costs, and quality care. But- the state wants to require a doctor’s note for absences. For me, my child stayed home one day after receiving the attendance letter, and I decided I didn’t need a doctor to confirm he had a virus. Our doctor’s office is amazing, but in order to get a same-day appointment, you have to call right when they open, hit redial repeatedly after each busy signal, and hope for a miracle that you get through before all the appointments are taken. There was no way I was going to take him in, just to confirm he needed to go back to bed and take an appointment away from a child who needed to be seen.
  3. More counselors in schools. The American School Counselor Association reports that Indiana has a student-to-counselor ratio of 694 to 1 – well below the national average of 408-to-1 and the recommended ratio of 250-to-1. And according to a survey this year, school counselors say almost a third of their time is spent handling “non-counseling” tasks like test proctoring – as the state looks to add even more testing. People defending the letters say they help to identify children struggling with issues at home, bullying, substance abuse, etc. How about we first make sure our kids have someone they can go to help solve some of these issues?

Like a lot of laws and policies, I think they are made by people who are very misguided. We seem to be trying to quickly fix an issue that is multi-faceted and complicated. My mom friends and I are in the thick of it. The majority of these lawmakers have likely never been a primary caregiver for a child. Their children may have graduated decades ago. And they probably haven’t dealt with the heartbreak of a child who has a medical condition and wants nothing more than to attend school regularly but can’t.

If you think our state lawmakers should work to improve healthcare and support for students prior to threatening to prosecute families and keep kids away from extra-curriculars, you can find your legislator’s email and phone numbers at the link below.



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