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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

Educational Neglect Versus Truancy

Closely connected to the issue of truancy is educational neglect. Educational neglect is defined by state statute, but is often misunderstood and creates a source of confusion for school personnel faced with dealing with a child who is not attending school regularly.  South Carolina law places the ultimate responsibility for making sure a child attends school on the child’s parent, and educational neglect should be considered as a possible cause of the child’s absences.

Child abuse or neglect may exist when parents do not provide their children with education as required by law.  However, a child’s absences from school may not be considered abuse or neglect unless the school has made efforts to bring about the child’s attendance, and those efforts were unsuccessful because of the parents’ refusal to cooperate. § 63-7-20(6)(a)(iii).

Specific signs that indicate educational neglect are not included in state law, regulations, or agency policy.  Rather, professional judgment is required on a case-by-case basis.

Educational neglect may be indicated if:

  • The child is too young to be held responsible for his or her own regular attendance.
  • The parents do not respond to requests by school officials to meet regarding the child’s attendance problems.
  • The parents appear apathetic about school attendance and make no effort to work with the school to encourage the child’s future attendance.
  • The parents refuse to cooperate with an intervention plan instituted by the school to address the child’s continued absence from school.
  • Other indicators of neglect are present.  Child neglect is often chronic and can occur across dimensions. Neglect may be indicated when frequent absences from school are coupled with other signs of neglect, such as the following:
    • Child is dressed in clothing  inappropriate for the weather.
    • Child exhibits poor hygiene as evidenced by continued body odor, untreated head lice, etc.
    • Child’s medical needs are not being met; parents are not making sure that the child receives routine or urgent medical care.
    • Child exhibits excessive sleepiness during the day.
    • Child comes to school hungry or is observed stealing or asking for food.
    • Child is acting as caretaker for younger siblings.

School Staff as Mandated Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect

  • School teachers, counselors, principals, assistant principals, school attendance officers, and school resource officers are specifically required by law to report to the SC Department of Social Services (DSS) when they have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. § 63-7-310(A).
  • Nurses, mental health professionals, social workers, and law enforcement officers are also mandated to make such reports.  (See § 63-7-310(A) for a complete list of mandated reporters.)
  • If efforts to work with the parents have failed to correct the attendance problem due to the parents’ failure to cooperate, school personnel, as mandated reporters, must make a report to DSS in the county of the child’s legal residence.

Making the Report (§ 63-7-310(D))

  • The school district is not authorized to petition the court directly for suspected educational neglect or other abuse.  
  • School personnel should report such a case to the local DSS.  
  • DSS is the designated agency responsible for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, and it may petition the court to hear the case. (Reports of other types of abuse or neglect can be made to either DSS or law enforcement.)  
  • Reports to DSS may be made orally or in writing.  
  • The requirement to report suspected child abuse or neglect supersedes all other federal and state confidentiality laws, including HIPAA. 45 C.F.R. sections 160.203(c), 164.502(g)(5), and 164.512.
  • In making a report of suspected neglect, the following information is helpful to DSS:  child’s name, age, date of birth, address, and present location if known; names and ages of siblings; and parents’ names and addresses.  
  • The report should also include information about the child’s attendance; any other reasons that cause concern about the child; and a detailed account of the school’s efforts to obtain cooperation from the parents, including dates and times of meetings, phone calls, and letters.  
  • DSS may summarize the outcome of an investigation to the reporter if the request is made at the time of the report.

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