School truancy is a term that typically refers to absences caused by students on their own free will, and usually does not refer to legitimate “excused” absences, such as ones related to a medical condition.   Truancy differs from school refusal, which is the refusal to attend school due to emotional distress.  School refusal differs from truancy in that children with school refusal feel anxiety or fear towards school, whereas truant children generally have no feelings of fear towards school, often feeling angry or bored with it instead.


  • Truancy regulations are generally enforced by school officials under the context of parental responsibility.
  • Until a child reaches the age of compulsory, most parents are responsible for their children’s attendance.


  • For students refusing to come to school (responses from Counselor Talk, Sept. 2017):

Is there something going on at home? I’ve heard of kids who stay home to care for or protect other family members. I know it’s a long shot but maybe something to consider…

The things I’ve read talk about addressing root cause.  Usually it’s anxiety or depression, but it can obviously also be boredom/disinterest or general conduct issues.  Each of those requires a unique approach.  From my very limited search, the most common approaches seem to be:

1) Shortened day that gradually ramps up with student comfort, starting with only courses/activities that interest the student.

2) Family therapy, including in-home sessions that address family dynamics.

3) Family rewards system for school attendance.  Similarly, a punishment system for the opposite.

[Contact] Kristin Chamberlain at Geminus Community Partners Truancy Prevention Program (219)757-1890/

We have a student who refuses to come to school.  It was written into his IEP that for every day he came to school without refusing and attended all classes, he could leave an hour early on that Friday.  So by Friday, he could earn 5 hours at home. That worked for a while.  Then, he starting coming to school and refusing to attend class and just trying to sit in the office.  So, I would time how much of my time (or principal, nurse, teacher, officer, etc) it would take to get him to leave the office and go to class.  So, he could have a good day on Monday and Tues and earn two hours, refuse for 30 min on Wed and be down to 1.5 hours, and so on.  This was the closest we’ve come to getting him here and in class. It’s still not perfect but we have tried everything! Teachers have accepted that having him in their class 4 days a week is better than what we had before. I scheduled his resource time at the end of the day so he didn’t miss as many core classes.

  • From Counselor Talk, April 2018:
    • Q: Does your school do anything to positively reinforce students who make it to class on time?
    • A: Our school does what we call “4 Star.” We are a k-5 building, but you could possibly adapt it in some way.  This is where each quarter students who have no absences, tardies, discipline referrals, and good grades for that quarter- are invited to participate in the 4 star activity for that quarter. Our activities include a game day- where all 4 star students (grades 1-5) get out of class for an hour to an hour and a half, and play games and get some snack. Sometimes we even take the 4 star group to see a movie in the theater. It is a big undertaking, but works in our building- for the most part.
    • A: We have an ongoing class competition. We have a perfect attendance board in our main hallway outside of the front office. Each class competes to spell out “perfect attendance” first. They can gain a letter each day that their entire class is at school, with no tardies.  The first class to spell out “perfect attendance” gets to go out for an extra recess with popsicles. Once a class has won, the board resets.



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