(Photo by Alison Yin/EdSource)

Local News Matters weekly newsletter

Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.

In California, the decision on whether to close schools is up to individual school districts, which are required to consult with the state Department of Public Health.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued a new executive order canceling or postponing non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people until at least the end of March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But it does not cover regular classroom instruction, which is considered an essential service.  As a result, districts across the state are deciding whether to stay open, leaving parents asking many questions about school attendance rules, especially if their children suffer from chronic conditions that may be affected by the coronavirus.

Here’s the guidance that the state is offering to school districts.

If I keep my student home from school as a precaution, will the absence be excused?
Any absence due to illness or quarantine is excused under California Education Code. The California Department Of Education says students should be allowed to complete all assignments and tests missed during excused absences that can be reasonably provided. Keeping a healthy student home as a precaution is not considered an excusable absence under state law, but school administrators may excuse absences at their own discretion.

San Francisco Unified School District officials had announced that absences would be excused for parents who felt it best to keep their children home from school prior to their announcement Thursday that schools would be closed for three weeks starting March 16.

In contrast, the Davis Joint Unified School District officials said absences would not be excused unless the student was sick or had a doctor’s note excusing them from school for medical reasons. In a message to parents, the Evergreen School District in Santa Clara County said they were remaining open and the district “will continue to code any student who chooses to not attend school based on the concern of contracting the COVID-19 virus as ‘unexcused.’  That being said, we also understand that families can still make a choice to keep their child(ren) at home during this time and for the next few weeks we will not be taking any truancy action or disenrolling students accruing ‘unexcused absences.’”

Do I need a doctor’s note to keep my student home from school? 

Schools may require a doctor’s note to verify an absence. It is up to the school administrator. But, the state’s most recent guidance to schools urges them to “consider relaxing requirements for a doctor’s note for the child to return to school
after illness.”

Can students be kept home from school if they suffer from preexisting medical conditions, such as a chronic respiratory disease like asthma?

If a child has an Individual Education Plan or a 504 plan with a medical condition listed, then a precautionary absence would be excused, California Department of Education spokeswoman Cynthia Butler said. A child can also have a Chronic Illness Verification form on file that would also allow an absence to be excused based on the medical condition listed, she said.

How many unexcused absences can a student have before they are deemed “truant,” and what are the consequences of being truant?

A student is classified  “truant” in California if he or she misses more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year, according to the California Department of Education. School administrators are authorized to excuse school absences due to a student’s circumstances, even if the excuse is not one of the allowed excused under the California Education Code.

Students classified as truant are issued letters that are sent home notifying their parents or guardians of their obligation to make sure their students attend school. Students who are habitually truant may be referred to a school attendance review board or to the county probation department.

Are state officials considering changing school attendance rules in light of the coronavirus?

County superintendents have called on the California Department of Education to give districts more flexibility when it comes to excusing absences during this time, Alameda County Office of Education spokeswoman Michelle Smith McDonald told EdSource. Alameda County assistant superintendent of business Raul Parungao said in an interview that county superintendents have also asked for a waiver to prevent funding loss due to a lack of attendance.  Superintendents are waiting on the California Department of Education’s response.

Do schools still receive daily attendance funding if a student is absent?

No. A student’s absence, regardless of whether it is excused or not, will reduce the school’s average daily attendance, Butler said. The state uses a school district’s average daily attendance to determine its funding.

Story originally published by EdSource.