Q: Did the Legislature make any provision in the Education Code to provide flexibility with attendance requirements for a student who experiences excessive absenteeism resulting from a serious or life-threatening illness, such as COVID-19?
A: Yes, HB 699 requires a school district to excuse a student from attending school for an absence resulting from “a serious or life-threatening illness or related treatment that made the student’s attendance infeasible.”
Under the “90 percent” rule, a student cannot be given credit or a final grade for a class unless the student is in attendance 90 percent of the days the class is offered. This is true regardless of whether the absence is excused. HB 699, effective when signed by the Governor on June 7, 2021, provides an exception. Absences related to serious illness or treatment are now exempted from minimum required attendance for class credit or final grade.
To safeguard against concerns that a person might abuse the waiver of minimum attendance requirements, the student or the student’s parent or guardian must provide written certification from a licensed Texas physician specifying the student’s illness as serious or life-threatening and the anticipated period of the student’s absence relating to the illness or related treatment.
Additionally, HB 699 provides that the student cannot be denied promotion for failing to perform satisfactorily on the STAAR exam if due primarily to circumstances that resulted from the student’s health status. Notably, students who failed to perform satisfactorily last Spring because of their illness or treatment are subject to the accelerated learning committee and/or accelerated learning plan requirements under HB 4545.
Finally, HB 699 requires that a school district offer additional counseling and prohibits the district from referring the student to truancy court if the truancy was the result of the student’s illness or treatment. These requirements continue to apply if the district determines that the student’s truancy is the result of pregnancy, being in foster care, or homelessness.
For additional questions concerning attendance, contract your school attorney.