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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 and Betsy Gwin, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2022

DTA verifies school attendance directly with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). You do not need to report school attendance give DTA proof unless your child is on probation (see What are the school requirements for children) or your child is in private or parochial school, is home-schooled or there is another reason DESE does not ahve a record of your child's school attendance. 

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 (as determined by the school principal or designee). 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.
  • If your child is in a private or parochial school or is home-schooled, DTA will require you to verify the child is in an approved program, and will terminate your entire household if you do not comply. DTA Operations Memo 2014-48 (Aug. 14, 2014). DTA can require information about a child’s school attendance, but it may be illegal to close the entire case because of missing school information. For help, contact your local legal services program, Appendix D: Massachusetts Legal Services Offices.
  • DTA will not track attendance for July and August, so you will not have to submit an attendance report in August or September even if your child was on probation at the start of the summer. DTA Operations Memo 2014-45 (July 10, 2014).
  • DTA will suspend Learnfare sanctions during July and August and will reinstate sanctioned children for those months. DTA will resume the sanction in September. DTA Operations Memo 2014-45 (July 10, 2014).
  • 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.
  • Did your child miss school because of the effects of the pandemic or other crisis? The statute says the Commissioner is supposed to define crisis. DTA says the school decides if there was a crisis. 106 C.M.R. § 703.170. That may not be legal. Consult an advocate if your child had a good reason for being absent. 

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