What are the basic rules in Maine?
In Maine, children age 7 and older and teenagers under 17 years old must be in a school program. This means your child cannot drop out before he is 17 years old. Until then your child is compulsory school age.
If your child is at least 7 years old and has not finished 6th grade, he is truant if he has:
- 5 unexcused absences from school in a row or
- 7 unexcused absences from school in one school year
If your child has finished 6th grade and is not 17-years-old, he is truant if he has:
- 7 unexcused absences from school in a row or
- 10 unexcused absences from school in one school year
If your child misses 1⁄2 a day or more, and the school considers that a "day," it will count toward the limit.
What is an unexcused absence?
Answer: Any absence that is not excused.
Maine law defines an "excused absence" as missed school time because of:
- a medical appointment that must be made during the school day
- observing a recognized religious holiday when the observance is during school
- a family emergency
- a planned absence for a personal or educational purpose that has been approved by the school or
- educational disruption caused by a student's homelessness, unplanned hospitalization, or placement in foster care or a youth development center
Whose responsibility is it to get my child to school?
The adult a child lives with is responsible for making sure that child goes to school. So if your child lives with you, this means you! If you don't make sure your child attends school regularly, you may be brought to court on a civil violation. The school must follow certain procedures first. We will explain those rules here.
What is the school's responsibility?
Maine schools must try to work with parents or legal guardians and students to get students to attend school regularly.
There is no such thing as a truancy officer in Maine. Instead, the school principal decides if the student is truant. The principal will look at the number of unexcused absences your child has in a school year. If your child meets the minimum number of unexcused absences for his age, the principal must tell the superintendent within 5 school days of your child's last unexcused absence.
From there, your child will be referred to the school's "student assistance team" or other school intervention team. You and your child will be invited to the team meeting. The team will decide:
- what caused your child's unexcused absences
- what is the effect of the unexcused absences on your child
- what will be the effect of more unexcused absences on your child
If the team decides there is a negative effect on your child, the team will make an "intervention plan." The intervention plan can include changes, such as:
- Frequent communication between teacher and family
- Changes in learning environment
- Student counseling
- Tutoring (including peer tutoring)
- Placement in different classes
- Evaluation for learning in multiple pathways (career and technical education, alternative education, apprenticeships, online courses, adult education, career academies, AP courses, gifted and talented programs, or dual enrollment)
- Attendance contracts
- Referral to other agencies for family services
- Referral to the school's attendance coordinator
- Referral to the school's student assistance team
- Referral to the school's drop-out prevention committee
If you do not go to the meeting, the team can still make this plan for your child.
If your child is still truant after this plan is made, the superintendent must serve you with a written notice. The notice must be given to you in person or sent by registered mail. The notice must say that:
- your child is required to attend school,
- you have a right to review your child's attendance records, the school's attendance coordinator's reports (if any) and the principal's reports,
- your failure to get your child to school may be a civil violation and what the possible penalties are,
- local law enforcement or Maine DHHS can be contacted, and
- a plan was developed - including the specifics of that plan and the steps that were implemented to improve your child's attendance
If your child is still truant after the intervention plan is made and the notice is mailed to you, the superintendent shall follow school procedures to have a second meeting. At this second meeting, a new intervention plan can be made. The school can ask the local district attorney to come to this meeting.
After you get this notice, your child must go to school within 3 days. If your child is still absent or if you do not go to the second meeting, the school can contact local law enforcement to refer your case to court. The superintendent will also tell the school board that your child is truant.
What is an attendance coordinator?
This is a school staff person who is certified or registered in mental health, social welfare or education. The attendance coordinator tries to figure out why your child is not going to school regularly. The attendance coordinator can interview your child and/or meet with you and/or your child. He will write a report for the school principal. The attendance coordinator may also work with law enforcement if your case is referred to law enforcement.
What happens in court?
You may be summoned to appear in District Court if:
- your child is "under your control" (i.e., lives with you),
- you received written notice from the school about your child's truancy and the plan that was developed to correct it, and
- your child has missed enough days in the school year to be truant.
This is because you are responsible for making sure your child attends school. You will not be charged with a crime, but you can be found to have committed a civil violation. If that happens, you can be:
- fined up to $250
- ordered to take action that will make your child go to school
- ordered to go to a parent training class
- ordered to go to school with your child
- ordered to follow the school's intervention plan
- ordered to perform community service at school
- ordered to go to counseling or other services
- You tried with reasonable diligence to get your child to school, or
- The school did not follow its duties to address the child's truancy
What can DHHS do?
Maine law says that a child is neglected and in jeopardy if that child is 7 years old or older and has not finished 6th grade. This means that DHHS can investigate and bring a child protective case against you.
Can older students work if they are truant?
No. A student who is truant is prohibited from working. The only exception is if the superintendent gives a release that approves of your child's employment.
What is a Dropout Prevention Committee?
Schools should have a dropout prevention committee. Members should include:
- one school board member
- a school administrator
- a teacher
- a school counselor
- a parent
- a school attendance counselor
- a high school student
- a dropout student, and
- a community resident
The purpose of this committee is to understand why students drop out and make recommendations to the school board for how to address the problem. The committee should explore the reasons why students drop out, including;
- keeping in contact with recent dropouts to offer or refer them to alternative education, counseling and human services programs
- educating teachers and administrators about the dropout problem in the school district
- reviewing the school's disciplinary policies and practices and
- reviewing any discriminatory practices and attitudes within the school unit