Right to Education for Students Who Are Hospitalized
By: Natalie Trouard* and Amanda Glass, ACDL Staff Attorney
Children sometimes require hospitalization for acute medical or behavioral healthcare treatment. Students with disabilities may require more frequent hospitalizations than students without disabilities. Even while in the hospital, students are entitled to an education.
Many Arizona students with disabilities encounter interruptions in educational services while they are hospitalized for medical or behavioral health treatment because schools drop these students from their school enrollment if they miss ten consecutive days of school. Because of this disenrollment, the student is left without any school services while in the hospital, leading to educational loss and potential negative consequences on the student’s grades and earned credits. When schools drop students from enrollment, parents must also go through the process of reenrolling them in school when the hospitalization ends. Because of the nature of some students’ disabilities, this can be a persistent problem.
This three-part blog post series explains the problem, important legal rights of students with disabilities, tips for parents to help ensure their children have access to a free and appropriate public education during hospitalizations, and dispute resolution options. Today’s blog post focuses on explaining why students are dropped from school enrollment when they are hospitalized and how a parent or guardian can prevent their student from being dropped.
Why was my child dropped from the school’s enrollment?
Arizona schools automatically withdraw students who are absent for ten consecutive school days unless the absences qualify as excused absences. The Arizona Department of Education, which is given the authority under state law to identify excused absences, defines an excused absence as an absence “due to illness, doctor appointment, bereavement, family emergencies, and out-of-school suspensions.” Further, for absences to be counted as excused absences, “the school must be notified in advance or at the time of any absence by the parent or other person who has custody of the student.”
Absences also should not exceed 10% of the instructional days scheduled for the school year, unless a student has a documented chronic health problem. The minimum number of instructional days in Arizona public schools is 180 days, although specific school districts can choose to provide more days of instruction. Therefore, if the school board policy sets a 180-day school year, a student’s total absences should not exceed 18 days per school year.
How can I prevent my child from being dropped from the school’s enrollment while hospitalized?
Students should only be automatically withdrawn from school after being absent for ten consecutive school days if those absences are unexcused. The most foolproof way to prevent a student from being dropped is for a parent or guardian to call the school registrar each school day that the child is hospitalized to inform the school that the student will be absent from school that day because they are ill and in the hospital.
However, when a child is in the hospital, a parent will likely have more urgent problems than calling the school attendance line and it may not be practical or possible for a parent to call in every day. When it is not possible to call in every day, parents should reach out to their student’s IEP/504 Plan Case Manager, the school’s special education director, the principal, the school registrar, or another administrator as soon as possible to explain that the student is in the hospital and to ask that their absences to be marked as “excused” during the hospitalization. Parents should also offer to provide the school with child’s projected discharge date from the hospital so that the school knows when to expect the student to return to school. Parents and schools should work together to come up with a practical plan for the student’s education while the student is in the hospital.
More Negative Impacts for Students in Foster Care
It is especially important that students in the foster care system are not improperly withdrawn from school during hospitalizations, as a withdrawal can lead to unnecessary school changes and educational instability.
Here’s why. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), foster children have the right to remain at the school they attended before entering foster care or before a placement change unless a formal determination is made that it is not in the student’s best interest to remain at that school. Changing schools frequently can negatively impact a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing as well as their educational progress, and ESSA aims to reduce the number of times foster children change schools by giving them the right to remain in their “school of origin,” even when their residential placement changes.
So, if a student who is in foster care is hospitalized and their school disenrolls them, when they are released from the hospital and go to a new foster placement, the child’s most recent school may claim that it is no longer the child’s school of origin. In that case, the student may not be allowed to stay at their most recent school and may end up at a different school, away from the friends and teachers they had built relationships with. This change in schools only adds to the instability and trauma students in foster care experience in the system and as a result of being hospitalized. Therefore, it is particularly important that foster youth are not inappropriately dropped from school while experiencing hospitalizations.
Look for the next blog post in this three-part series, which will discuss the protections under Arizona law for students with chronic health problems and how parents and guardians can ensure their child receives those protections.
*Natalie Trouard is a 3L law student at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law interning at the ACDL
 Ariz. Dep’t of Ed., Defining Excused Absences (effective 7/1/2018), https://www.azed.gov/sites/default/files/2020/09/School%20Finance%20Manual%20%5BG%5D%20Defining%20Excused%20Absences.pdf
 See Ariz. Dep’t of Ed., The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains key provisions to promote educational stability and success for students in foster care, https://www.azed.gov/fostercare.
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