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Chronic absenteeism vs. truancy

Published Monday, February 26, 2018

Chronic absenteeism is something school districts across the country are working to measure and address. As chronic absenteeism becomes a more broadly-used term to describe students frequently absent from school, it’s important to note it is not the same as truancy.

A truant student is a student that’s accumulated unexcused absences on three consecutive days or has accumulated five or more unexcused absences through the course of the school year. Excused absences and suspensions do not affect truancy. Also, only full-day unexcused absences are counted.

Beginning this school year (2017-2018) a new definition of “absent” was thrown into the mix and used to identify students chronically absent from school, as research has shown those students are more likely to perform poorly and have an increased risk of dropping out of school. Those chronically absent may not be students facing truancy. They may be students missing school for reasons outside of their control.

Excused absences are counted as chronically absent students are identified. As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the numbers of students chronically absent in school districts are reported to the South Carolina Department of Education. Those numbers are then also reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

A chronically absent student is any student who misses 50 percent or more of a school day for any reason for 10 percent or ore of the enrolled period. All types of absences count towards a child being considered chronically absent.

The goal in identifying these students who are chronically absent is to get a hold of what research shows is a pattern that begins at the elementary school level. With early-warning and response, it’s believed school districts can be more effective in improving student achievement.

BCSD currently uses several approaches in to minimize student absences and prevent those students with frequent attendance issues, excused or unexcused, from becoming a statistic. District social workers work closely with each school’s teachers and administrators on intervention plans, making family contact and referrals to the Department of Social Services and Department of Juvenile Justice as appropriate.

For additional insight, resources and ideas on what you can do to address student absences, visit

Brian Troutman