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How do you verify school attendance and which absences are excused?

Alert

DTA made a number of changes and suspended a number of rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guide notes in red when a rule was suspended during the pandemic.

Produced by Deborah Harris, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 9 2022

DTA stopped requiring school attendance verification during the pandemic. The verification rules below are the rules before the pandemic.

DTA verifies school attendance directly with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). You do not need to give DTA proof unless your child is home-schooled, there is another reason DESE does not have a record of your child’s school attendance, or the school report is wrong.

Under the rules, an absence is excused if it was caused by

  • the child’s illness (you can sign the note if the absence was less than five days; for absences of five days or longer, you need a doctor’s note or hospital records),
  • religious holidays,
  • death of a family member (verified by death certificate or notice in the paper),
  • the child’s disability, or
  • a crisis (must be approved by the local DTA office). 106 C.M.R. 703.170.

You do not need to provide proof unless your child’s school reports more than 8 unexcused absences in the quarter.

Sometimes the school will report an absence as unexcused, even though your child was absent for a good reason. If you get a notice saying you are on probation or losing part of your grant because your child had too many absences, find out what the school reported to DTA and double check the dates to be sure DTA is not using old information. If the school reported some absences as unexcused and there was a good reason your child was absent, give your worker proof of the reasons. You can also appeal any reduction in benefits. See Appeal Rights.

Children who are expelled or suspended are not exempt from Learnfare, even if the school provides no alternative education. There may be ways to get the child back into school or an alternative program. For help, contact your local legal services program, Appendix D: Massachusetts Legal Services Offices.

Advocacy Reminders

  • If a child is removed from your grant for Learnfare noncompliance, DTA should reinstate the child on the grant if you provide verification of Learnfare compliance within 30 days of the closing. DTA Transitions, Aug. 2004, p. 3.
  • Because you can’t verify compliance during July and August when schools are closed, DTA will not track Learnfare probation and will reinstate children who were removed due to Learnfare in August and September. DTA Operations Memo 2014-45 (July 10, 2014). Contact your local legal services program, Appendix D: Massachusetts Legal Services Offices, about getting a child reinstated for July.
  • DTA is supposed to contact you and help you with school attendance issues if you are put on Learnfare probation because your child was absent too much. DTA Online Guide (Learnfare Intervention). You may have a defense to a Learnfare sanction if DTA does not help you address the reasons your child misses school.

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