Saturday, May 23, 2009
sponsored by Graue Inc.

The SPIRIT truancy program

A discussion with Regional Superintendent of Schools Jean Anderson

Part 3 in a 4-part series

Send a link to a friend

[May 23, 2009]  The Regional Office of Education is responsible for a broad array of duties. In this article Regional Superintendent of Schools Jean Anderson discusses truancy in the tri-county region.

A truant, according to Illinois state law, is "any person subject to compulsory school attendance who is absent without valid cause from such attendance for a school day or a portion thereof. Valid cause for absence may include observance of a religious holiday, documented student illness or injury requiring a doctor's care, a death in the student's immediate family, situations beyond the control of the student as determined by a district board of education, or such other circumstances which cause reasonable concern to the parent for the safety of the student." (105 ILCS 5/26-2a)

A chronic truant is any person subject to compulsory school attendance who is absent without valid cause from such attendance for 10 percent or more of the previous 180 school days.

SPIRIT truancy program: Special Prevention Intervention Remediation Involving Truancy

The SPIRIT truancy program of the Logan-Mason-Menard Regional Office of Education offers assistance to 11 of the 13 districts in the region, while Lincoln Community High School District 404 and Porta District 202 in Menard County have their own programs.

The SPIRIT program offers intervention services that provide tutoring, mentoring, health care or whatever the needs of the child and family may be. The program networks with outside agencies that can be called on for assistance to the family, and the services provided are personalized to meet those specific needs, whatever they may be.

Anderson says that truancy can be caused by a variety of things. It can be something that is easily cured with a little assistance from the program, or it can be a deeper problem that requires specific intervention.

For example, in the case of younger students, it may be a situation that the parents are experiencing, rather than the child.

Anderson offers an example:

"We had a situation where a young child and her family were living, temporarily, in a motel, which was located across a very busy street, and the parent didn't have a car. The parent had been walking the child to school during the warm weather, but as weather got cold, the child started missing school.

"Our office was notified of the absences, and we sent the first notification letter, as required by law. The truancy caseworkers had a conversation with the parent and learned that the parent was keeping the child home because it was dangerous for the child to walk in the severe cold. We worked out a way for them to have some transportation, and the issue was resolved."

Another example stems from her time as a teacher prior to becoming the regional superintendent. Anderson says that, as children get older, some causes of truancy can become more complicated.

"In my years as a junior high teacher, I heard of a few situations where a child's life was so exciting or stimulating to him or her -- and not in a good way -- that school didn't hold the same fascination that life on the outside did," she said. "Particularly when sex, drugs or some other sort of illicit behavior are involved, there is an adrenaline rush kind of thing involved that those students don't get in school.

"Because the truancy program is many-faceted, the ROE, with its agency partners, can offer intervention and assistance to such students, as well as to those whose situations have different precipitating factors. Again, we hope to reach students soon enough that they can be assisted in making positive choices and maintaining regular attendance in school. Fortunately, we have only a few students who reach the chronic level."

Anderson goes on to explain that chronic truancy can be a matter of when students have reached the point that they have missed so much school and are so far behind in their learning that they lose hope and feel it is not possible to succeed in school and, thus, feel it may be pointless to attend. In those cases there are tutoring and mentoring programs that can be set in place to assist the child in getting back up to speed.

However, the main reason for the truancy program is to assist students, their families and the schools so that children do not reach the point where they become chronic truants.

Anderson explains the truancy process as follows:

"The first step in truancy intervention occurs with the building principal notifying the truancy caseworkers that a student has been absent for a total of five days. In compliance with the compulsory attendance law in Illinois, the ROE then sends a letter home to the parents reminding them that their children need to be in school on the day immediately following the day the letter is received.

[to top of second column]

Auto Sales

"If attendance doesn't improve, when children have missed 10 days, we send a second letter, which is a little stronger, but which, again, orders the child to school on the day following receipt of the letter. In the meantime, caseworkers make contact with students and, generally, with their families, in order to discover what issues might be causing the student's absences and offering support in various ways. Caseworkers complete an Individualized Optional Education Plan, which sets and documents both attendance and academic goals for the student and which is signed by the caseworker, the student, the school, and the parent or guardian.

"About the 15th day, if absence without valid cause continues, we send another letter and set up a truancy review hearing, which is also required by law. The hearing is a process that tries to provide additional assistance and set some further goals, which may include a community service component, depending upon the age of the student. The IOEP is also reviewed so that if we haven't been totally successful assisting a family early on, this is another point at which other agencies can become involved.

"At the 18th day, students are considered chronically truant, which means that they have missed enough of the school year that it is going to have a significant impact on their success. Upon further absence, children or their parents may be referred to the state's attorney's office."

Anderson says that, throughout her region, students seldom reach the 15th or 18th days of truancy. Situations are usually resolved, and the child is back in class before any serious consequences occur.

She points out that because student absences occur throughout the school term, it is sometimes a case of parents not realizing how much their child has missed. In addition, they may not realize the impact of those missed days. Anderson explains that missing 20 days of class, even if it is one day every other week, constitutes a month of absence and can have a significant negative impact on a child's success in school.

In cases of younger children where the absences are being caused by a problem the parent is having, she says that the long-term ramifications have been illustrated in recent studies that suggest children who do not maintain regular attendance in kindergarten have a higher dropout rate once they reach high school, compared with students who did attend regularly in those early years.


Another consequence of truancy is that the child and parents are in violation of the law. The compulsory education law extends to students between the age of 7 and 17 in Illinois. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, unless students are enrolled in a public, private or parochial school -- and attending regularly, they are in violation of the law.

Anderson says it is very rare to see this happen, but it is possible that chronic truancy can lead to the removal of a child from a home.

The SPIRIT program's aim is to reach the family and resolve any issues they are having before it gets to this degree of severity.

To learn more about the Logan-Mason-Menard Regional Office of Education, visit


Part 1 of series:
Regional Superintendent of Schools Jean Anderson offers insight on the duties of the office

Part 2:
Homelessness in Logan County and other issues
A discussion with Regional Superintendent of Schools Jean Anderson

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor