Legal Mailbag – 6-1-23

By Lexus Perry, Associate, Shipman & Goodwin LLP – GUEST COLUMNIST

The “Legal Mailbag Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors.

Please submit your questions to: legalmailbagatcasciacdotorg.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I received a note from an APRN stating “[Student] is a patient at our practice. She suffers from anxiety. According to mom, [student] missed school on the following dates due to anxiety: [list of 3 dates]. Please excuse her absences on those dates.”

This student has been referred to our attendance support team (formerly YSB Truancy referral) as she has missed 32 days of school this year. The parent submitted the note quoted above to excuse absences. Am I legally required to accept this note and excuse these dates when the child was not seen in the office and the student’s medical condition is “according to mom?”

Concerned Truancy Monitor


Dear Concerned:

Regular student attendance is critically important to the educational process, and it is natural for you to be concerned about the number of absences a student has. A student is considered truant if the student has four or more unexcused absences in one month, or ten or more unexcused absences in the school year, and a student’s status as a truant triggers action under your district’s student attendance policy as required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-198a. Luckily, Legal Mailbag is here to help you sort this out.

The short answer to your question is the classic lawyer’s “go to” answer: “it depends.” But from the information you provided, the answer is probably no – you do not have to accept the note you received as excusing many of the student’s absences because the APRN did not evaluate the student.

According to the State Board of Education policy, an absence is defined as a student who is not “in-attendance.” That is a rather broad statement, but it is further explained by defining “in-attendance.” A student is considered “in-attendance” if they are either at their assigned school or at a school sponsored event for at least half of the regular school day.

As I am sure you know, absences are split into two categories, excused and unexcused. Connecticut State statutes do not define what is considered excused, and the General Assembly gave that job to the State Board of Education instead. As required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-198b, the State Board of Education adopted “Definitions of Excused and Unexcused Absences,” on June 27, 2012. In that guidance, the State Board of Education broke absences up into two categories: Level 1 and Level 2. Under Level 1, students are allotted up to 9 days of excused absences for any reason, and such absences only require a parent’s note or other notification to the school of their absence. However, Level 2 applies to absences for 10 days or greater, and these absences are considered to be unexcused unless parents provide additional documentation.

If the three days listed in the note were among the first nine days of absence, these absences will appropriately be excused by the parent’s note. However, if these days of absence occurred after the first nine absences, you will need to consider the matter further.

Now you might ask, for what reasons can absences be considered excused for absence number 10 or greater? In defining “unexcused absences” as required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-198a, the State Board of Education has given several reasons that allow for an excused absence beyond 9 days, which are: death in the family or an emergency, student illness, mandatory court appearances, extraordinary educational experiences approved by the school, and lack of transportation provided by the school district.

You will be happy to know that the State Board of Education has provided additional guidance on whether such absences will be excused. Guidelines for Implementation of the Definitions of Excused and Unexcused Absences and Best Practices for Absence Prevention and Intervention (State Department of Education, May 15, 2013). That additional guidance answers your question because for absences due to illness, the Guidelines provide:

For absences due to student illness, Level 2 students must either provide a signed note from a medical professional who has evaluated the student confirming the absence and giving an expected return date or have his or her school nurse verify the student’s absence with the medical professional treating the student.

In this specific situation, you are dealing with student illness as a reason for a student’s absences. This means a parent must provide specific documentation to excuse the absence. As quoted above, the documentation required to support this type of absence is either: a signed note from the medical provider who evaluated the student that verifies the absence and provides an expected return date; or the absence can be verified by the school nurse checking with the medical provider who evaluated the student. The medical provider can also be the nurse, but the key is that the medical provider must have evaluated the student.

To determine if and/or how the letter provided will excuse the additional absences, you would have to determine if the APRN is the person who evaluated the student. If so, that marks off the first requirement. Next, you would determine if the letter provides an expected return date. One could find that since the note says to excuse the student for past absences, that would not qualify for the expected return date, as the days had already passed. However the better answer is that the expected return date is moot because the student has returned to school.

If you were to find that the note meets both requirements, then the note will suffice to excuse the absences. However, unless you receive additional information establishing that the APRN actually evaluated the student, these absences are unexcused.