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Student Attendance and Support

Regular school attendance is critical for academic success. Our goal is to ensure that every student attends school regularly and on time. Daily presence in school has a huge impact on a student’s academic success, starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school. Even as children grow older and more independent, families can continue to play a key role in making sure students get to school safely every day and understand why attendance is so important for success in school and in life.

We realize some absences are unavoidable due to health problems or other circumstances. But, we also know that when students miss too much school—excused or unexcused—they can fall behind academically.  Your child is less likely to succeed if he or she is chronically absent—which means missing 18 or more days in a school year.  Research shows that:

  • Children that are chronically absent in kindergarten and 1st grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. By 6th grade, chronic absence is a warning sign for students at risk of dropping out of school. By 9th grade, good attendance can predict graduation rates even better than 8th grade test scores.

What are excused and unexcused absences?

Excused absences are when school-aged students are absent from school with a valid excuse and parental approval.  Examples of excused absences include:

  • Student illness (a doctor’s note is required if a student is absent for more than five days);
  • Death in the student’s immediate family;
  • Necessity for a student to attend a judicial proceeding as a plaintiff, defendant, witness or juror;
  • Observance of a religious holiday;
  • Temporary school closings due to weather, unsafe conditions or other emergencies;
  • Medical reasons such as a doctor’s appointment (a doctor’s note is required);
  • Failure of DC to provide transportation where legally responsible;
  • Lawful suspension or exclusion from school by school authorities;
  • Absences to allow students to visit their parent or legal guardian, who is in the military; immediately before, during or after deployment;
  • Emergency or other circumstances approved by the Director of Attendance and Support Services  or designee.

Unexcused absences are when school-aged students are absent from school without a valid excuse, with or without parental approval. Examples of unexcused absences include:

  • Babysitting
  • Doing errands
  • Extended travel (domestic or international)
  • Oversleeping
  • Cutting classes

Students must be present 80% of the day to be counted as “legally present”. When a student returns to school after an absence, a note should be sent to the teacher or attendance counselor. The note should include the date(s) of the absence and the reason. A doctor’s note should be provided if required. Student absences without notes will be marked unexcused. If absences are due to chronic health issues, i.e. asthma, the school nurse will develop an Individual Health Plan.

What are the attendance expectations for students?

  1. Arrive on time to school and to class each day.
  2. Bring your books and materials to class.
  3. Ask your teacher for missed work or make-up assignments for days you were absent.

Ask school staff for help if you have academic or other concerns (e.g. safety or lack of transportation) preventing you from coming to school.

What happens if a student misses school?

Students who cut class or are absent may be subject to the following responses:

  • Individual/group counseling to address attendance needs.
  • Participation in the creation of, and adherence to, an attendance student support plan.
  • Parents of students with five (5) unexcused absences will be requested to participate in a truancy conference and referred to the Student Support Team.
  • Students with 7 unexcused absences will receive a Metropolitan Police Department/DCPS notification letter.
  • Parents of students with ten (10) total absences – excused or unexcused will be requested to participate in an Attendance Conference (SST) and will be referred to the Office of State Superintendent of Education.
  • Students ages 5-13 with ten (10) unexcused absences will be referred to the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) for suspected educational neglect.High school students with ten (10) unexcused absences will be referred to the school’s Attendance Committee/the Student Support Team for follow-up.
  • Students ages 14-17 with fifteen (15) unexcused absences will be referred to Court Social Services.
  • Students ages 5-13 with fifteen (15) unexcused absences will be referred to Office of Attorney General.
  • Course grades or year-end promotion may be affected by unexcused absences.

Course grades or year-end promotion may be affected by unexcused absences.

How can families help their student succeed?

  • Let your child know that you think school is important.
  • Have a regular bedtime and enforce it.
  • Provide your child with plenty of time to get ready for school.
  • Provide an alternate transportation plan for getting your child to school on time.Make sure your child arrives at school on time daily. Classes begin promptly at 8:45 a.m.
  • Students should arrive at least ten minutes early. Remember that, if a student is absent for more than 20% of the scheduled periods in a particular day they are considered to be absent for the entire day.
  • Try to make medical, dental, and other appointments before and after school if possible. If appointments must be during the school day, plan them so that your child does not miss the same class every time.

If you have questions, please request a meeting with your school’s attendance counselor, social worker or student support team to discuss your child’s attendance concerns.

Is school attendance required?

Yes. School attendance is required by law for all students who reach five years of age on or before September 30 of the current school year.  Students must attend school daily until they meet high school graduation requirements or reach their 18th birthday.

What is the school attendance law?

The District of Columbia Compulsory School Attendance Law 8-247 and DC Municipal Regulations Title V Ch. 21 govern mandatory school attendance and the ways schools must respond when students are truant.

The Compulsory School Attendance Law states that parents/guardians who fail to have their children attend school are subject to the following:

  • Truancy charges may be filed against the student or parent;
  • Neglect charges may be filed against the parent;
  • Parents may be fined or jailed;
  • School-aged students may be picked up by law enforcement officers during school hours for suspected truancy;
  • Students may be referred to Court Diversion and other community based interventions;
  • Students will be referred to SST’s and school based intervention services;
  • Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) will receive notice of all students with 10 or more unexcused; and Parents and students may be assigned community service and placed under court supervision/probation.

What is truancy?

Truancy is the unexcused absence from school by a minor (5-17 years of age) with or without approval, parental knowledge, or consent.

What happens when a truant is picked up by police?

All uniformed law enforcement officers in the District are responsible for truancy enforcement. 

  • Students are transported in a police vehicle to their school.
  • Parents are notified of the student’s truancy status.

Parents and students attend a truancy conference at the local school.

My child is skipping school. Who can I talk to?

  • Your school’s attendance counselor.
  • The Office of Youth Engagement attendance specialists (202) 727-0488

Download the Parent and Student Guide to Attendance

Support Services

DCPS is committed to serving all students residing in the District of Columbia, including homeless children and youth. 

A homeless student is defined as a child without a regular, fixed, and adequate nighttime residence. The child may live in a shelter, a temporary home, a motel, a car, a campground, or on the street. Homeless children may also be living temporarily with relatives or friends because of a loss of permanent housing.

For more information, Visit DCPS Homeless Children and Youth Services.

Neediest Kids Fund/Bridge to Success

Neediest Kids is a charitable organization, now associated with National Council for Children and Families that provides emergency resources to help students whose basic needs might otherwise go unmet. The organization’s mission is to help meet immediate needs of students so they can stay in school and reach their full potential.  At present, DCPS school staff can request uniforms, shoes, and groceries/personal items/medicines to supports student needs.  

To learn more about supports offered by this program contact your school counselor or teacher.


Channon Adams, Specialist, Homeless Children & Youth Program (202) 576-9502